One of the more recent trends in gaming has been to take two seemingly unrelated genres and mash them up, creating a sort of remixed videogame. Match-three puzzle elements have been combined with role playing and platforming elements in Puzzle Quest and Henry Hatsworth, respectively. Transcripted aims to take Zuma-esque match-three puzzling and blend it with a twin-stick shooter. Like the previously mentioned titles, the concept seems bizarre on paper, but it works pretty well in practice.
Also, it takes place inside a living organism, which is totally sweet.
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In molecular biology, transcription is the process of transferring the information held in an organism's DNA inside the cell nucleus to mRNA, which is the first step in protein production. While I personally think that literal idea would make an excellent videogame, Transcripted takes a more abstract approach. The DNA strand is represented by an ever-moving chain of colored blocks, and points are awarded for matching three bases of the same color in a row, removing them, and potentially setting up chain reactions.
Basically, it's Zuma. Or at least, half of it is.
The player takes control of a nanomachine, so one of the first things that sets Transcripted apart from Zuma is that there is free control over not only aiming, but also movement. In addition to the nucleotide chain that the player must worry about, there are also antibodies trying to attack the nanomachine. Shooting and destroying these yield power-ups and the DNA bases required to work with the DNA strand.
If one were to only focus on the twin-stick shooting aspect, they wouldn't repair the corrupted DNA and wouldn't progress. However, without the shooting element, they wouldn't have any DNA "ammunition" to repair the chain. As a result, the player is constantly switching between the two focuses, prioritizing actions on the fly.
Since there are two distinct mechanics at work in Transcripted, there are also two different sets of difficulty settings. For instance, methodical players can increase the puzzle difficulty and decrease the shooter difficulty, or more action-oriented players can keep the puzzle elements simple while upping the amount and types of enemies.
There is a pretty substantial upgrade tree available, and as players progress they can unlock various power-ups. These can be passive upgrades like improved shields, or more active ones like new and improved weaponry.
The default control scheme shown off was a traditional twin-stick gamepad setup, although the aiming felt a bit limited, with a discrete number of directions that projectiles could be fired from. Fortunately, as a PC title, mouse and keyboard controls are also available, and while the movement suffers a little in the transition, the level of precision gained in aiming more than makes up for it. While Transcripted works competently with a gamepad, it really shines with mouse aiming.
The visuals are well done, with different areas representing different types of bodily tissue, ranging from muscle fibers to neurons. What little I heard of the soundtrack was mellow electronic fare that, when combined with the cell biology theme, reminded me quite a bit of Osmos, despite the completely different gameplay. One slightly jarring thing about the presentation was that the relaxing music worked well for the early mellow stages, but was at odds with the action of the later stages.
Perhaps one of the most telling things I can say is this: I really dislike Zuma, but I'm still interested in Transcripted. In the same way that Puzzle Quest took the boring grid-based match-three gameplay of Bejeweled and turned it into something addictive, I can see Transcripted doing the same with its puzzle elements. It adds enough to be fresh, while still having some familiar grounding that will draw in fans of its inspirations.
Transcripted is expected to release on PC some time this summer.