Transcend is a 2D puzzle platformer that will have you jumping between the life and afterlife as you work your way to finish a level. The objective of each level is easy, all you have to do is reach the exit door or collect a star. It is currently an alpha, a prototype and a demonstration of the team’s talents. What you have here is a showcase of a good amount of levels, solid programming talent with the mechanics and a good presentation with its art direction. Its enough to be entertaining and leave you wanting more.
The premise of it is simple, you live after death. Let’s say you die from a set of spikes, you continue to have control. There are two planes for each level, the living and the dead. The dead lets you walk through living walls, the living lets you walk through dead walls. Brown terrain is solid on both planes. When you’re dead your living body drops to the ground while a translucent ghost form of yourself is free to roam around. When you’re dead you don’t have to worry about dying. Instead, you’ll have to pick up bones that with the push of a button, you’ll return to life again. Its just that simple.
It plays pretty simple with keyboard and 360 controller support. Left and right to walk, a button to jump, a button to use the bone (insert joke here) to live again and an action button that will let you enter doors and interact with objects. You’ll use the action button to do things like pull a lever to move a barricade or opening a door. You can also open barricades by standing on plates. The game runs nice and smooth. There is even a button to hold in order to restart. Most puzzle platformers simply have a reset button, but I prefer having to hold the button rather than accidentally reset a level.
You also have a way to move the camera, and while it works well, it is flawed, because once you use it, you’ll always have to use it. Your character will be able to walk off screen before the camera shifts to follow him, but it never automatically follows him again, even after resetting a level. It is an issue, but nothing game breaking.
There’s more than dying and living again, you also have tilt control over cannons, so you can move to a cannon and adjust the aim to shoot anywhere you want. There are also deflectors for cannonball projectiles to bounce off of. The death and two sets of planes also works for the enemies too. Nothing dies in this game. Even enemies you hop on will get back up. Ghost enemies will go through living platforms just as you would. Your foes will also weigh down plates for you.
Last but not least, there is cloning. Enter through a door to restart the level with your previous play through playing. This feels imperfect, because my shadow self will often fall into a death pit when I didn’t. While the game makes good use of signs to explain some things, it never mentions anything about tilting the cannons or deflectors. Nor does it mention triple jumping on enemy heads to get a height boost. It feels like an overlooked detail that can be added later.
As for the difficulty, it seems a little tough beyond the initial tutorial level, but it is a puzzle platformer. There is a lot of timed jumps where you need to get hit by cannonballs to die, and white ones to live again to reach another platform. You’ll need to race cannonballs too along with time barricade openings. They’re all things you’ll get used to and overcome. Some of the levels I felt like I couldn’t complete, but once I got the hang of them, I was able to make my way to all of the stars.
As for the art its nice, the characters look crisp and clean, the backgrounds are vivid and beautiful, even if there’s just one. The ground needs a bit of work, because certain things don’t line up, but that can all be fixed later on. The enemy designs are nice and there’s a limited variety. Masked enemies that you can bounce off of, and spiked enemies that you can’t. There are cannons and spikes. The cannons shoot alternating black and white projectiles that the black ones will kill you while the white ones restore your life. There is only one song, but it manages to sound almost like it could be a song from an afterlife. Its very fitting, when it could have just been an afterthought.
With this demo you get two tutorial levels that seem to be a part of a future campaign, and you also get a series of at least five extra levels. You don’t need to unlock anything, its just come and play and that’s the way this sort of alpha should be. Puzzle platformers should always have easy access, because if you get stumped on one, just go to another that you have unlocked. Again, its a good showcase that proves there’s real talent here that should continue making the game.
From the start of the game, you’re in the game. There is no traditional menu, just a hub with the tutorial “campaign,” extra levels and about section. It goes a long way to keep you in the game by having this hub level. Everything is easily accessed. If you’re looking for settings, you won’t find any. The game works just fine for me at least.
There are a few forgotten details that don’t feel like true negatives. Its a lot of little things that feel inconsequential, because they don’t get in the way. Things like the pause screen lets you quit, but doesn’t allow you to return to the hub. Walking off screen just respawns you in certain sections like the menu and the “wrong way” screens.
You can’t take the green door because its orange. I’d rather it be the orange door simply because orange stands out more from the green background. Of course the level line is green, so it makes sense from that standpoint. The lack of signs explaining certain mechanics beyond the early ones. There are other minor ones that can be improved upon.
There is a sign counting how many stars you have, but not signs on the doors to tell you if you’ve completed a level or earned its star. Again, they’re all small details that to balance out a review I need to find something.
While the game is good on its own, it can benefit from staples that other puzzle platfomer have. Things like push blocks, keys and switches to enable platforms. There can be a life or death twist to them all. Even switches to change the living or dead plane that a push block exists on. These are common devices that Transcend has already gone beyond.
Its a worthy demo to try out for anyone that likes puzzle platformers. I can see the work and effort that went into making it.