We want to thank Rain Games for sending us a copy of this game to review. Now that Teslagrad has come to the Switch it was time to finally give this game a go but was it a game we could get attached to or did it fling me away. Let’s find out.
Although this was my first time playing the game, Teslagrad isn’t a completely new game, having originally launched on PC back in 2013 before slowly appearing on consoles starting with the Wii U. It was a game I was always interested in, and I had seen the main character, the Tesla Kid, cameoing in other indie titles like Indie Pogo and Runbow. Now that it was coming to the Switch this felt like the best time to finally give it a go but was this a game I could get attached to or did it fling me away. Let’s find out.
As a 2D platform/puzzle game, the story is not really a major aspect when it comes to enjoying the experience, but Teslagrad does its best at worldbuilding and telling a story in a way that doesn’t encroach on the player. If someone wants to ignore the story, then they can which is the right way to go for this genre.
For those who are interested, the story is mostly told through theatrical puppet shows that the player stumbles across, as well as cards that act as collectables. The game begins with a bang as we see an army of soldiers running through a town and setting it ablaze. You play as an unnamed boy who is fleeing from the soldiers sent to kill him. In his escape, he ends up in a deserted tower, where he uncovers the history of his kingdom and the conflict that led it to its current place.
There has clearly been a lot of love put into the world here, and it shines in through all the little details. Most story points are fleshed out through background elements, and additional story points that help to keep players invested and contextualise the gameplay. Speaking of…
Teslagrad is played from a 2D-side scrolling perspective, but it isn’t like typical platformers like Mario or Sonic. There are actually very few enemies in Teslagrad, and the only frequent hazards are the few bosses you fight and any electricity that might fry the player. The lack of combat is a good thing because the game runs on a one-hit-death system. This becomes very annoying during some boss fights, which can be brutally hard. I personally had issues with the first boss because of how long it was, and how little space players have, to avoid death. Thankfully they were not all this annoying, so back to the good stuff.
Most of your time is spent in a series of puzzle rooms, where you must use the abilities you find in the tower to advance. The main focus of the game are magnets; players must use the attraction and repelling properties of magnets to advance. Players can punch certain objects to change their magnetic frequency and later get a gun that allows for that at a distance. Players also unlock a special hood that encases the boy in a magnetic energy, symbolised by blue and red. Opposite colours attract, but similar colours push away, and when you are enveloped in a certain colour it can cause the player to glide through hazards, grab onto ceilings and propel themselves up magnetic shafts. The final ability at the player’s disposal is special shoes that allow the player to warp briefly forward, bypassing metal grates and deadly walls of lightning (although this does not work on big thick brick walls).
For the most part, the difficulty curve for the game’s puzzles increases naturally, and the game is very well designed around your power-ups. In fact, the game is very well-designed in general with ] visual cues and good level design that makes it intuitive what players can and should do and vice-versa. However, I did find the odd occasion where there would be an incredibly hard puzzle that broke the flow of things. A puzzle where I would know the answer but pulling it off required throwing myself at it until I got better, which becomes more frustrating than fun. The good thing is that these difficulty spikes happen very infrequently. So, for the most part, it is an enjoyable experience. Now you’re playing with magnets!
The presentation of Teslagrad is probably one of its defining points, at least visually. I already praised the game for how well it teaches the player its mechanics, and credit goes to the presentation for this. Each environment looks painted and purposely placed to immerse players. The graphical style looks to emit both pixel art and CG models for a hand-drawn approach, at least for the human character. Some good comparisons are Wario Land: Shake It!, which was designed to look like an anime, and Cuphead, which looks like a 1930s cartoon. Teslagrad’s style looks more like a drawing come to live and everything moves fluidly. It was truly a sight for the eyes.
I wish I could say the same for the music, as it is almost non-existent. Instead, we have a lot of ambient noises, mostly the sound of electricity crackling. This is fine for setting up the atmosphere, but I would’ve prefered more traditional music during some of the more action-packed moments. There’s also another issue I found when playing this game that could be patched out in the future, but impacted my playthrough in a negative way. Towards the end of the game and at random times a loud-pitch crackle came from the sound and everything goes black. At first, I thought this was part of the game, as it wasn’t frozen and I could hear my character walking around, but this wasn’t the case. I couldn’t see the pause screen and when I reset the game everything was back to normal. The first time this happened it was harmless, but it began propping up more frequently, including during a really difficult boss fight. This soured the whole experience, as it was the best I had done in the fight up to that point. I can only assume this is an issue with Unity on the Switch, but if this doesn’t get patched out then it can lead to a frustrating experience.
I was eager to try out Teslagrad, as it was one of those indie games that made a big splash when it first released. Having beaten the game I can see why. Visually it is very pleasing, and the way it tells its story is immersive. The use of magnetism as the main gameplay pull is neat and leads to some good puzzles. However outside the visuals, the game lacks charm, and some puzzles aren’t intuitive at all. Add on some forced, unsatisfying boss fights, and you end up with a game that jumps between enjoyable and frustrating far too often. I definitely think this game is worth playing though, and it has made me intrigued at what future offerings Rain Games have come if at least for just the world they have begun to build.