Cross the elegantly simplistic space shooter Geometry Wars with the marble-popping arcade classic Zuma and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Transcripted – in fact, that's exactly how this Facebook game was pitched to us by its French developer Alkemi. But the game's not all homage; far from it, in fact. Transcripted introduces enough clever new gameplay twists to be compelling in its own right.
There's no story as such, but the premise is a solid one. Like Geometry Wars, the action takes place within a self-contained grid, where your “ship” is a lone cell that must defend itself against the attacks of hostile cells by shooting them. Enemy cells start off slow-moving and relatively harmless, but soon you'll encounter more lethal types that act like heat-seeking missiles or fire clusters of projectiles your way.
Meanwhile, chains of DNA, represented as strings of colored cube, are slowly snaking their way across the screen. Destroyed enemies occasionally leave behind a colored cube that you can retrieve and launch into the chain, Zuma-style. Clearing three or more cubes of the same color causes them to disappear and fills a gauge part way. You win the level if you manage to fill the entire gauge before time runs out – and stay alive.
This mash-up of two different genres is interesting to begin with, but Transcripted has a few more gameplay twists up its sleeve. As long as you're holding a cube you're invulnerable to enemy attack, which adds a whole new layer of strategy to the mix. Instead of having the feel of a frantic arcade-style shooter, the action takes on more of a duck-and-cover approach where you can use those brief periods of invincibility to maneuver your ship out of a hairy situation, or evade projectiles. Holding a cube drains your energy gauge, though, so you'll have to get rid of it after a short time.
Mercifully, too, Transcripted didn't copy Geometry Wars' one-hit death philosophy. Instead, you have a life bar that drains a little each time you take a hit. You can even replenish this life bar by collecting Hearts that drop occasionally, along with other bonuses like extra points and clocks that add more time to the clock.
It's a good thing that Transcripted is more forgiving than some other shooters, because its controls (which involve using the keyboard to move and the mouse to aim and fire) are more cumbersome than Geometry Wars' slick twin-stick approach – especially when it comes to dodging projectiles. Your ship's secondary weapon, an electric bolt that deals area damage, is barely more effective than your primary canon since it drains your energy very quickly, and I found it often more trouble than it was worth to bother switching to it since this involves pressing yet another button or key down.
I'm not trying to make it sounds like Transcripted's controls are broken. Far from it. Although there is a bit of a learning curve, the game has that “just one more round” addictive quality that all of the best arcade games possess. A zen-like spacey vibe and sparse, elegant piano music make for a compelling audio and visual package too.
The game offers a leaderboard where your score, achievements and other stats are displayed, and you can compare your rank among Facebook friends who are also playing the game, as well as on a worldwide leaderboard. The leaderboard is pretty much the extent of Transcripted's social integration for the time being, aside from the fact that you can publish high scores and achievements to your Facebook news feed and invite friends to join the game.
The catch with Transcripted is that you don't get unlimited free play. You get two free games approximately every 8 hours or so. After those have been used up, each time you press Continue after your ship has been destroyed you have to spend one credit or “Nano Coin.” You can earn a limited number of Nano Coins by achieving in-game milestones, like Nanotech PhD (play at least 100 games) or Survivor (beat level 9). You can also earn Nano Coins by signing up for those infamous “free” services and surveys, but after the whole Scamville debacle we strongly recommend thinking twice about going that route.
Transcripted also allows players to purchase extra Nano Coins with real-world cash in packages ranging from 10 coins for 99 cents to 2,000 coins for $199.99. that's approximately 10 cents per Continue. Given that a Continue at an arcade is going to cost you one, maybe even two quarters a pop, it's not a bad deal.