Teslagrad (Wii U eShop) Review
The cinematic puzzle platformer has seen a small scale revival for the past few years in the indie space. While not really breaking out of a smaller niche of fans, the genre has served up some stellar titles like Limbo and the recent remakes of Another World and Abe’s Oddysee (New ‘N’ Tasty). From Norway’s Rain Games, Teslagrad is an impressive new entry in the genre that takes the concept of magnetism and creates an impressive and enjoyably fresh experience.
The first thing that will likely strike players starting up Teslagrad are the visuals, they are just arrestingly beautiful. Reminiscent of the 2009 Wii title A Boy and His Blob, all of Teslagrad’s character and environment artwork is hand drawn. Small details in the environment immediately help to engross players in the game world, from droplets of rain falling on our character’s head, to shadowy cat figures dancing in the foreground. I was all just so overwhelmingly captivating and alive. Some of the boss designs are worthy of note too. They are quite beautiful to appreciate in motion, and fit their environments perfectly. Teslagrad’s artwork is really quite special.
Teslagrad starts like a fairly typical platformer, affording players the ability to walk and jump. It’s not long though before more interesting gameplay mechanics are introduced, and you begin to understand how you’ll be making your way around Tesla Tower. Early on, you are introduced to the magnetic fields that allow you to explore areas more thoroughly than your more pedestrian running and jumping. You can hit certain objects in the environment to change their magnetic polarity so that they either are repelled or attracted to other objects and you can use this to make your way around the environment. Later on in the game, you’ll actually be able to master your own polarity too, meaning you can move yourself around with the power of magnets as well as influence charged objects in the environment. The control of magnetic polarity for level traversal is done impeccably well, and the carefully crafted feeling of elasticity while navigating and manipulating the two magnetic polarities is a true delight.
As well as being a tool for exploration, the magnetism concept is used to marvellous effect in the Teslagrad’s puzzles. The way that different magnetic polarities interact is instantly familiar, and this means that puzzles spend less time needing to teach you how the mechanics work, and more time letting you figure things out for yourself. During my playthrough of the game, I found more than a few puzzles that had me stumped for longer than I’m used to in games. There is an immense satisfaction to be found though, after experimenting with a puzzle area for a while, feeling like you’ll almost give up, and then just have an idea spark in your mind that works flawlessly to get you past the obstacle you’ve been stumped by for what seems like forever. After solving some of the puzzles I had a self-satisfied smile from ear to ear. For a short moment I felt like a genius, a true master of magnets.
One aspect of the older puzzle platformers that has been retained in Teslagrad is an unforgiving difficulty. There is no health bar, nor are there any powerups to increase your character’s resilience to enemies and hazards. If you are hurt, you die. This may sound unnecessarily demanding, but it is balanced by a lack of punishment for death. You will quickly reappear after death not far from where you fell, ready to take another stab at overcoming the obstacle that took you down. This balance, along with the free-form magnetic movement, encourages player experimentation and made sure that I was not deterred even by some of the most harrowing traversal challenges.
Teslagrad’s musical score is not one that I found myself humming along to, though I suspect that was never the intention. The music never takes focus away from the moment to moment interaction in the game but instead complements the mood of what’s taking place. From thrilling boss battles, moving human scenes and adventurous exploration, Teslagrad’s score excels at establishing just the right feeling for the situation.
For players who just want to see the end, their quest might be over in about 5 to 6 hours, but there will be much more play in store for people who go back into previously explored areas with new abilities and a greater understanding of the mechanics. I found myself compelled to go back to explore older areas before entering the final encounter. The puzzle design is just done so well that it didn’t feel like a chore to go back to old areas, it was actually exciting to find little details you missed before or to finally realise you had an ability that would let you claim that pesky collectible that had teased you earlier on in the game.
The story of Teslagrad is told entirely visually. There is no text to read, no voices to narrate the goings on. The plight of your character and the history of the world that has led to the present time is told entirely through a short introductory cut scene and puppet show vignettes found during the course of play. As there is no overt narration telling players what happened, this method of storytelling lets players appreciate as much or as little of the story as they desire. You could play through the game to the end almost ignoring the plot, but players who want a history and plot to discover won’t be disappointed either.
There are very few gripes I had with Teslagrad. There are some frame rate hitches as the game loads new areas, there seems to be no Pro Controller support and there is a part towards the end where you might be stopped in your tracks if you haven’t found enough of the hidden collectibles in the game to progress. None of these problems really affected how much I enjoyed playing Teslagrad though, I just thought they rated a small mention.
Teslagrad is a beautiful game. It’s visuals and audio complement a fresh new take on puzzle platforming that is familiar at first, but soon introduces some incredibly well crafted mechanics that encourage experimentation in traversal and puzzle solving. It’s a game that I found hard to put down. the combination of innovative and natural feeling magnetic movement mechanics, a gorgeous aesthetic and immensely satisfying puzzles make this a game worthy of your attention.
Rating: 4 / 5