Teslagrad is the first singleplayer game produced by Rain Games, following the tale of a young boy who must adventure through an ancient tower and harness the powers of electricity and magnetism to escape. Is it an attractive proposition, or is it one that will repel you?
The game takes the form of a puzzle platformer, crossed with a Metroidvania game. You are given the whole tower to run through and explore and are slowly drip fed upgrades to increase your mobility, puzzle solving options and eventually, combat potential. Teslagrad’s main mechanic is the manipulation of magnetic fields, by using a gauntlet which can change certain objects to attract or repel other magnetised objects and later, a special coat which allows you to create your own magnetic field to be attracted or repel from certain platforms. It plays like many other games which have used the same mechanic, with you toggling between different states very quickly to get through a perilous section, or controlling magnetic fields to drag certain objects through an area.
The game later introduces a tesla coil to allow you to shoot electricity but it is only really used in one boss fight and just seemed like a throwaway add on to fix the ‘Tesla’ name. Also, you can find a pair of boots which, for some reason, gives you the power to use the Blink abilty from Dishonoured, allowing you to teleport short distances and pass through certain objects. This is my major complaint with Teslagrad to be honest, the main mechanics feel like they have been ripped wholesale from other games.
While the game looks unique, there’s a constant feeling that you’ve done all this before.
The sections which have you switching between poles to get through an area, feeling exactly like the gravity switching sections in Super Mario Galaxy. The repulsion and attracting puzzles feel just like the ones in Portal 2, right down to the giant tunnels of light which allow you to float between areas. While the game replicates these mechanics fairly well and it controls okay, you have this constant niggling feeling like you have done this exact same puzzle somewhere before, and better. What doesn’t help is the fact that the magnet physics are ever so slightly off, making it so there is quite a margin of error when estimating a repulsion jump or where a box is going to be attracted to, leading to many forced deaths during sections as you mess something up due to the wonky physics.
Another major problem I had with the game was its misuse of a Metroidvania-style world with its mechanics. Unlike Metroidvania games, you don’t feel like you are really getting stronger while you play Teslagrad. Yes, you do get new powers which let you traverse more areas or eventually deal damage but you don’t really feel like you are getting more powerful. You don’t have the constant small improvements to health, weapons or mobility that games like Castlevania or Metroid have, just giving you 4 big upgrades on the course of your adventure which you rarely use all 4 of them in tandem during puzzles.
This feeling of weakness isn’t helped by the fact the game runs on a ‘one hit death’ system, which led me to many moments of frustration during the game’s boss fights, with you still dying to a single hit in the final boss battle, making you feel as weak as you were when you start the adventure. The game also doesn’t feel like a cohesive world as Metroidvania games should, feeling more like a series of puzzles strung together in some sort of order, making the game seem like an adventure and more a checklist of magnet themed puzzles.
Teslagrad also commits a great Metroidvania sin of having a section of incredibly obvious backtracking, where you are forced to collect 15 picture scrolls in order to get to the final area. Not only is it tedious to go back through all the zones, the scrolls do not make you faster or do anything cool, they are just there to provide a little bit of story as well as being there just to be a collectable. It breaks up the great pacing, just to make you backtrack back through the tower. It was not an electrifying experience.
Woah, Punch and Judy is dark in this world. I didn’t see the one about genocide.
One thing the game has been touted for, is its complete visual approach to story, relying most on small little puppet shows to fill you in on the game’s backstory. For all the bluster, it just isn’t that good. Most of the time, it simply replaces ‘now listen to this character blabber on for a bit’ with ‘now watch this little puppet show to find out how the nasty red guys killed all the nice blue wizards’. The story that it tells isn’t that revolutionary or engrossing, as you only really feel a part of it at the very beginning and at the very end, as the rest of the time you are simply trekking through an abandoned tower and getting the Cliff Notes on what caused this big fracas.
For all my problems with the game, it does look very nice. The hand drawn art style is certainly very striking and the lightning is some areas sets the mood incredibly well. The soundtrack however is simply passable, with no tunes really standing out but none of them being outright bad. Like much of the game, it feels like it has been done somewhere else, and done much better.