With only eight months into its cycle, the Nintendo Switch has become a bit of a hot spot for small independent studios aiming to capture the attention of gamers. Two genres, in particular, the twin-stick shooter and the match-three puzzler have begun to cascade the versatile system with many takes on the classic formula. Developer Alkemi has presented their offering by merging both experiences together in an effort to try and conjure something a little more unique with Transcripted.
During a legal dispute with previous publisher Topware Interactive, Alkemi saw necessary to pull Transcripted from Steam back in 2012. Now working with Plug In Digital, who also published pretty platformer Pankapu, this little match-three blaster gathers a second wind that happens to work quite nicely whichever way you decide to play it.
You are Adam, a boffin in genetics that uses a blood cell-shaped nanoprobe to fight aggressive Xeno pathogens, that contain the potential to set off a deadly widespread pandemic. You destroy said pathogens to uncover little coloured Pseudo DNA cubes – coloured red, blue, green, and yellow – that you collect and fire into a sprawling genetic chain made up of the same stuff. Match three of the same colour and you will begin to fill a double helix meter at the top of the screen that, when successfully filled, will see you beat the level. It may sound a tad complicated when placed in words, but if you think of any twin-stick shooter combined with Zuma then you will pretty much get the gist.
Transcripted is quite literally a slow burner to begin with. This is because your nanoprobe starts off moving at a slothful pace with a rubbish gun equipped. Once you obtain a cube, your movement is restricted even further due to the weight, however, enemy projectiles are ineffective whilst you temporarily have one in your possession.
Eventually, you can earn enough currency to begin upgrading your nanoprobe with a healthy variety of options like navigational speed, stronger firepower and various offensive and defensive qualities. But, because you are stripped to the probe’s very basic functions at the beginning, Transcripted does feel quite hard to actually get into at first. Even at top speed, it’s still a reclined experience in comparison to other twin-stick shooters and movement becomes a bigger issue when you fight your first boss so early on in the campaign.
The chances are you will face your first big encounter without earning the necessary upgrades to be very effective. Your probe is just too slow to respond to the situation, and the encounter then just drags out much longer than you want it to. The game persuades you to replay levels to increase your chances to earn more upgrades, but because there’s hardly enough levels before the encounter to get a decent taste of its puzzle mechanics, I just ended up farming currency from the pathogens that surround the boss until I earned enough speed to be practical. It makes the first boss encounter more frustrating than anything, which is a shame because I did quite like the idea of it resembling a giant Guyver unit from the 90s anime.
Once you do upgrade your ship’s movement and weapon, the experience does begin to feel much smoother. It also starts to change the gameplay properties quite often as you progress. Some levels will have you firing a cube at a switch point to slow down a fast-moving genetic chain. Whilst another level will be a timed ordeal, in which you must block a row of three with white cubes rather than create a combination – in an effort to stop invading colours matching three of their own. I really liked how the difficulty options can be tailored to your play style with both shooter and puzzler element possessing their own setting. This is a great idea to have in place for those who want to balance their preferences, just be aware that once you have dropped the difficulty, you cannot increase it.
If you were to split both genres apart in the way Transcripted have designed them, they just wouldn’t feel quite good enough to rival the better iterations that are out there. As a twin-stick shooter, it’s far too relaxed in pace. Even destroying pathogens doesnt quite give a satifying sense of conflict. The sound of the weapon is too low despite messing with the audio settings and there is no physical feedback whatsoever from the Joy-Con. The controls are responsive enough for the most part, although the aiming isn’t quite as tight as I’ve experienced elsewhere which can be a bit of an annoyance when trying to squeeze a cube from a distance. I found myself relying more on strafing movements with the probe as opposed to actually aiming to be accurate.
The puzzle side of the game does feel like it suffers a bit because of the aiming. Sure, it feels good when you knock chains of colours in sequence but it never quite gives the same buzz that a more popular variant can provide. A personal issue I had with the game was how difficult it was to tell the yellow and green cubes apart. I am slightly colour blind, but I’ve never really had this issue before with other match-three puzzlers. However, analysing both genres together the way that Transcripted is meant to be played does make for a fairly unique experience. I wouldn’t say that it is a game changer or anything, but it’s adequate enough to be fun for the most part.
Visually, Transcripted looks the part. The biological backgrounds mixed with the cell-like enemies do give a decent inner-space experience. The music that accompanies the action is as laid back and ambient as the gameplay. The light piano tones sound pleasing although but the lack of variety can begin to wear on the ears after a while. The voice narration that the story presented with is actually pretty strong even though I didn’t really care too much for it, but it’s a decent enough addition for those who need a motive to feel immersed.
As a whole, Transcripted does a fair enough attempt to separate itself from two genres that have been replicated a million times over. Whilst it doesn’t quite live up to the standards of the better iterations of each type of experience, it is crafted well enough to work. I wasn’t too keen on how weak the probe was at the beginning of the game, although the upgrade tree system itself is a decent enough way to spend your spoils.
Transcripted can get very tough, even on the medium difficulty, but the more casual settings can provide well for those who doesn’t want to be punished. With 25 levels, 10 online score challenges, and medals to earn on each level, it is pretty good value for its low price point. Just don’t go in expecting it to be a particularly exciting shooter.