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Teslagrad Review: Attractive Platforming

Platform: Windows PC
Developer: Rain Games
Publisher: Rain Games
Release Date: 12/13/13

 

There comes a time in every person’s life when they meet their match. Sometimes a person is defeated by nature, sometimes by a stronger individual. Me? I’ve been bested by a video game, become a casualty churned out during the course of performing my duty as a games critic. The game in question is Teslagrad by Rain Games, a physics puzzle-platformer released last December. If I had to give the experience a name, it’d have to be “spectacul-amazing”. Yeah, I wish I had a cooler name for it too.

 

Among other...not-so affectionate names when I got angry.

I affectionately called the nameless protagonist “Kid Tesla”.

Stupid words aside, that is the general impression you get while playing Teslagrad if you’re not blinded by puzzle-rage, primarily in connection to the visuals. The aesthetics are similar to a storybook: nice, broad swathes of primary and secondary colors. Vibrant reds and blues were prevalent all throughout the sections of game that I played, greens and oranges populating the more verdant and steampunk-y zones respectively. The soft-edged artwork is often solidified by the hard lines present in most aspects of Teslagrad’s buzzing technology as they shuttle and scuttle across the screen.

Animations are mostly constrained to the player avatar, beyond the occasional NPCs. There’s a…unique quality to the animation; it felt like there was a slight pause in between frames. It’s not unpleasant though. Sort of like a flipbook, it suits Teslagrad’s style. And Teslagrad has a very good style going for it and not just visually. Or rather, entirely visually because Teslagrad has no text to explain the story nor voiceovers to listen to. Everything is conveyed, and conveyed well, through the performance of the actors on your computer screen. There is no sense that something was lost. Bits of the backstory are filled in by mechanical plays repeating in various halls strewn about the massive castle you’re traversing. But there is an immediacy to it, a sort of natural impetus to the flow of gameplay that any sort of complicated narrative would have made the game feel like maple syrup on chocolate; just a little too much.

The only issue with Teslagrad’s shying away from audio interactions is that some of the musical assets seemed to have withered along with it. It wasn’t bad but that’s all I can say about it. The best background music in my estimations is the kind players don’t exactly notice but that they feel; it accents whatever is taking place on screen. Unfortunately, I never felt that from Teslagrad. The music was functional but that’s all.

 

But if a cat talks to you in real life, seek help then dissect that cat.

Paula Abdul (and that talking cat) was right; opposites do attract.

Thankfully, “functional” is just about the most negative thing I can think to describe Teslagrad’s style or its gameplay. Teslagrad, as was mentioned, is a physics puzzle-platformer. Over the course of the hours I played, my nameless, junior teslamancer gained access to 3 tools of the (now defunct) order of magnetic magicians. A glove that could switch certain ferrous objects between two polarities, boots that transformed him into lightning for a short dash, and a cloak that emitted a field of one of those two polarities. New items were handed to you at a near pitch-perfect pace.

Each zone, after receiving a new teslamancer item, followed a similar formula that just…worked. The first few screens almost exclusively required the new item, the next few slowly dropped it into your puzzle-solving toolkit, and then you got tested. Though instead of battling against a paper exam, you fight a boss creature that really tests your mastery of each new item. Have you learned enough about your glove to beat that Teslasaurus Rex? Are you pinpoint enough with your dashes to battle a copper condor contraption? The answer, for me at least, was “no”.

The puzzles were challenging but surprisingly intuitive; there were few times when I felt like tearing my face off because I didn’t know where I should have been going. Most instances of face-ripping rage came because I knew where I had to go but couldn’t get the timing down for the usage of boots into cloak into something else. I’m not sure which form of anger is more agonizing but the kind I experienced was more compelling because it fed into that “one-more-try” mentality.  I love-hate Rain Games for making Teslagrad, the recipient of my first puzzle-rage award of the year. The game is simply brilliant, perhaps too brilliant for me.

The combination of great gameplay and few bugs (I’m still not sure what was going on with that third boss battle) that was let down by an average acoustics offering does very little to diminish what a success Teslagrad is.  Teslagrad is grand platformer that, at times, makes you both dread and love that push and pull of magnetism.

A review copy of the game was provided by Rain Games.



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