This time, Jack talks about his latest indie infatuation and wants other developers to pick up what it’s putting down.
I know what you’re all thinking: “Another long love letter to an indie studio or game filled with clichés and exaggerations regarding the quality of the product.” Well, you’re right. Strap in.
In all seriousness, I’ve made no effort to hide my love of indie titles. It has come to the point that my co-host on Gamemoir’s Couch Co-Op was not only able to beat me to the words “indie games” when I was mid-sentence, but was also able to poke fun at me for it before I could finish that same sentence. I have a problem folks: I love the wildly creative and cool experiences from smaller studios. In that respect, over the course of this past year or so, I’ve felt especially lucky. From games like Gone Home, The Stanley Parable, Starbound, Spelunky, Broken Age, The Banner Saga, Child of Light, and Super Time Force it would seem ridiculously selfish to ask for more. Yet, here I am.
You see, despite the immense quality and diversity of all those titles I listed above, one game still stood out among the rest of the recently released indies. That gem is Transistor, brought to us by Supergiant Games. What struck me isn’t just that Supergiant is quickly rising to the upper echelon of indie devs, it’s the way they are getting there. Now, with only two games in the bag so far, it might seem presumptuous to give them such high regards. However, what gives me the confidence necessary to make a claim so bold isn’t just that they’ve released two highly lauded titles in a row, but what those titles have in common; both Bastion and Transistor are overflowing with style.
While I don’t want to undersell the importance of this, anyone who played Bastion would have been able to tell you (and would likely be willing to bet money on the fact) that Transistor would be technically sound. The game plays well from navigating the environment to the engaging combat, which manages to feel both slow enough to be tactical and fast paced enough to be exciting. That same person could have also told you that Transistor would have an original, interesting narrative filled with mystery and subtlety.
Both of those things make for a good game, a great game even, but what that Bastion-fan might not have told you or thought to express was that they were hoping, as I was, that Transistor would live up to the exquisite style that its predecessor had in spades. While it’s not often in the forefront of my mind while I experience a game, style is what sticks with me long after I put away the disk or let a downloadable fall to the back of my recently opened apps/games list. Style is the way the landscape struck you in Bastion, the way the emotion flowed through you in The Last of Us, the way the music washes over you while playing Starbound.
If you were anything like me you wanted to press your ears to the speakers as the narrator from Bastion spoke the lines that made that game an indie sensation. I played the soundtrack for weeks after finishing the game and still listen to a few tracks every once in a while. Style is more than just having brilliant music or jaw-dropping art or any creative element you can jam into a game; it’s about how all those exceptional elements fit together.
In Transistor it’s about how the beautiful art style uplifts the dystopian world, which is experienced through the eyes of characters who are fleshed out by a narrative that is supported by an unbelievable and unique soundtrack, which is made all the more meaningful because of the events happening within the game. If that sentence seems long and complicated, it’s because I can’t think of a better way to simplify the interwoven nature of style.
Allow me to explain in greater detail. That art style is full of bright colors and details that tell stories of the world in which they exist such as those in the theater where our main character performs her shows. These details speak of a glamorous and glorious world that make the player all the more concerned about what is happening to it. The characters involved in this conflict are complex and unique, all with their own motivations and goals.
Finally, the soundtrack is the cherry on top of the sundae on top of the bow on the present; it’s the sweetest thing that ties the whole thing together. From the haunting vocals in a few of the tracks to the electric influence found in all of the tracks, I’ve found a new soundtrack to keep coming back to.
Well, there may be one better way to explain it. Style is everything that gives a game its soul. It is the soul of a game that you remember. It’s always special when a AAA developer manages to pull off a game with soul. I hesitate to bring it up again but The Last of Us might have been the last AAA game that felt so personal and meaningful. In this respect, I believe indie developers have the upper hand. While, just a short time ago, I wrote about how hard independent devs have it, the personal touches that make a game memorable and stylish are much more easily accomplished by a smaller, more focused team with a unified vision.
Transistor truly is a lesson in style to all other developers out there. Play through that game and tell me it didn’t feel personal, soulful, and stylish. I won’t believe you. Games like this need as much recognition as they can get so that other developers know that this is what many gamers are asking for. I can’t remember the last time an Assassin’s Creed game felt stylish, despite being well-polished and enjoyable. I can say with absolute certainty that Transistor is a title I will still think of years from now, the same way I think about Bastion, but I would be shocked if a AAA game comes out this year that I think about even a few months after its release. That is, unless it has style.