(Image courtesy Supergiant Games.)
Video games are hard to make.
I tried doing it once; it was a stressful weekend that made me feel stupid and frustrated and even shed a couple tears. It wasn't a fun time. The only good thing that came out of my horrible venture as a developer was a giant respect for the people that actually do it for real.
That shit is hard, which is why I strongly believe that people should pay attention to the studios that know how to cook up games. Supergiant Games is one of those studios – they're pretty much the Gordon Ramsey of games in that sense. They've already served up Bastion and Transistor – two top-notch games that are uniquely special, creative and equally fulfilling examples of what indie games can be. And it looks like they're going for the trifecta with Pyre. That’s why I want to touch on a few of the things that made Bastion and Transistor such distinct titles on the indie scene, and why I think Pyre has the potential to outshine both of them.
Bastion was my first experience with a Supergiant Games’ work, and man, was it a nice first impression. Such a fresh game, full of quirky charm and beautiful art. It’s really robust, featuring a rustic, steampunk-esque vibe which shows up in its personable writing, environmental storytelling and mysterious narrator (that kind of sounds like a cowboy).
You play as “The Kid,” a young boy who is off to reunite a destroyed land while fighting off a bunch of harmful fantasy enemies. Your main base of operation is a refuge called the “Bastion,” a floating sky fort which increases size as you progress.
Bastion’s aesthetic is so fly, and it doesn’t shy away from showing you that. The breathtaking watercolour art melds perfectly with the narrative strands being threaded after each and every step you take, and the original soundtrack fits every mood the game throws at you. It’s rare to find a game like it – one that is so confident in what it is, and how it portrays itself.
The gameplay feels original and imaginative, considering it’s an action role-playing game. I think a lot of that's due to some of the strong choices Supergiant made, like implementing a disembodied narrator that comments on everything the player does often enough to make Bastion feel like a slightly postmodern and self-referential adventure.
It feels like your journey is specifically tailored to you and your choices, instead of being just another cookie-cutter experience.
Transistor is super amazing to me because it uses all of the components that made Bastion such a memorable game, but it manages to create a completely different experience. I’m talking about the ultra-unique atmosphere you get when combining great art direction, world building, and original sounds. The variation is simple: where Bastion went bucolic Transistor went futuristic.
In this game you play as Red, a singer who was attacked by robots that stole her voice, so she takes a really cool robo-sword called the “Transistor” to destroy the robot organisation.
It introduces some interesting mechanics through this rad emergent gameplay that combines action role-playing with tactical, semi-turned based strategy. It may sound kind of convoluted, but it isn’t, in action. Basically, you can fight the enemies in real time, or you can slow down time and use your powers more strategically. Most of the time it’s more beneficial to go through the game using the latter playstyle (and more fun ).
It’s a short game, around 4-5 hours, and it’s good that it is. It’s the optimal length for a one-off game like this, especially because it’s packed with such a wide breadth of content. While you’re traversing the land, there's a ton of environmental storytelling that fleshes out the world you’re in through easy, accessible interactables. It’s nice that the audio logs/collectables don’t feel intrusive, they’re something that you can go out and look for if you’re looking to get the most out of your time with Transistor.
It’s also beautiful; more so than Bastion. While each frame of every cut-scene is expressive, a lot of it has to do with how they’re paired with their musical counterparts. And Supergiant handles the music so well. Since Red lost her voice, she isn’t able to speak, but she still kept the ability to sing. You’re actually able to press a button on the controller to do that at anytime, and in the sandbox areas you’re joined by a backing track. It’s weirdly therapeutic to be able to just take a break between slaying mechanical foes to just, let go and get carried away by a voice like that.
Transistor is a game that you should play on a Sunday afternoon. It’s a great one-off experience that you can just finish and be done with. It also prompts a longing for more short, well crafted games like it, and it shows that Supergiant knows how to make them.
I’m gonna be honest with you: I really don’t know what the hell this game is about.
I mean, I kinda do. I’ve been following it since it got announced, but I’m still not completely sure what it is. Supergiant Games describes it as a “party-based role-playing game.” Super vague, but I think that might be the point. Assessing it from footage from PAX, it looks like kind of a team-based sport with three different characters: a beefy one, a skinny one and a dog. Oh yeah, it also takes place in some sort of purgatory. It looks like it might be complicated to grasp at first, but I see a lot of fun hidden inside of those quirky mechanics.
Regardless of the plot and premise it already nails all the other staples of its predecessors: a dynamic art style, fresh mechanics, and a solid soundtrack, so it looks like it will scratch that classic Supergiant itch. You can check the trailer below if you don’t believe me!
Don’t feel like there’s too much to catch up on before Pyre comes out. There isn’t some overarching plot between all of the Supergiant games, so you can jump into this one even if you haven’t touched the others (though I do recommend buying them because they’re way cheaper now, and they’re some really quality games).
I don’t know if it’s gonna be a good game, but looking at Supergiant’s track record, it probably is. There isn’t an exact release date for Pyre, but it’s set for sometime in 2017. And when it comes out you can catch me doing some sick-ass sports tricks in purgatory with my dog friend.
Man, video games are weird.