As my free time continues to get whittled away day by day, I find myself reviewing fewer and fewer blockbuster titles personally and concentrating on independent titles that catch my eye. One such game was Rain AS’ Teslagrad, a 2D platformer originally released on the PC in 2013 that utilizes one of my favorite genre concepts — the ability to attract and repel objects based on magnetism. How well does it implement it? Let’s find out.
While its linearity precludes Teslagrad from being labeled a Metroidvania game, there is a definite progression as you collect artifacts that grant new abilities. Initially you’ll only be able to jump, but as you make your way through the game you’ll imbue certain objects with either a red or blue charge, take on those properties yourself to be drawn toward or pushed away from said objects and a dash that allows you to travel through walls and other hazards.
Button mapping is fine, though keeping track of which side of the shoulder/trigger deployed which color never became second nature no matter how many hours I put into it. The real problem, however, is that things feel too loose.
I died dozens (if not hundreds) of times when my dash somehow came up just short of clearing an object or incoming projectile, and it seemed like any time I was asked to combine abilities — for instance, warping from a place where I needed to be red to one where I needed to be blue — the game struggled to read my inputs.
It’s part of an overall jerkiness that comes up a lot when moving through the gravitational fields, and it robs the game of some fluidity. Rather than gliding up as you rapidly switch polarities whilst passing through gates you sort of bob up and down, sometimes in confusing ways. There’s nothing here that will prevent you from completing the game or collecting scrolls, but if things handled a bit better it could’ve raised Teslagrad to another level.
There’s a nice hand painted style at work here, though the coolest moments are reserved for when you’re moving between gameplay sections. The rooms where you actually solve puzzles are less interesting, and the collection of creatures that inhabit them aren’t memorable. Still, there’s a legitimate charm to the graphics, even if its style has been getting lots of run on the indie circuit. The soundtrack, meanwhile, does a fine job, highlighted by the really cool song that plays during the title screen.
With no dialogue (spoken or written) or text of any kind, Teslagrad offers glimpses of what’s going on through murals and some play acting, but beyond that you’re left to fill in the blanks. The broad strokes appear to be that a king has taken over this realm by force and now rules it with an iron fist — there are definite Soviet undertones in the styling and look of the guards.
Does any of it really matter? No. This game is about testing your problem solving and platforming skills to get past an increasingly difficult set of obstacles. Most of these challenges are built around properly using the tower’s magnetism. It’s conceptually simple — blue repels other blue items and attracts red, while red repels red and attracts blue — but when you’re asked to switch repeatedly without making contact with electrical currents that line the walls it can get pretty tough.
It’s impressive how much variety Teslagrad provides in the way it challenges players, given that it features a very straightforward mechanic. This includes thought-provoking ones, where you’ll need to correctly diagnose how to change magnetism or dissect the pattern and find a brief opening during which to advance, and more standard platforming where the game asks you to successfully navigate a difficult series of jumps. And, of course, you’ll encounter combinations of the two.
Although advancing is the primary goal, collecting scrolls is the key to earning trophies. There are 36 in all, 15 of which you’ll need (it doesn’t matter which) to reach the endgame, and each one earns you a trophy — harder to find or reach ones get you gold. There looks to be a special something for finding them all, but since I only tracked down 35 of them I’m not sure what it is (I actually “found” the 36th scroll, but I triggered a checkpoint after missing it and couldn’t figure out how to get back).
In addition to exploration and platforming puzzles, Teslagrad also features a series of boss encounters that vary things up a fair amount. These require quicker reactions and can try your patience as they all use the traditional three-phase setup and any hit you take sends you back to the start of the fight. Granted, there are other difficult sections here, but they’re generally more forgiving of failure.
I liked almost everything about Teslagrad with the exception of the aforementioned control issues, which really come down to responsiveness and uniformity. Too often I’d feel like I was doing the same thing and getting different results; something that isn’t ideal in a game that asks for precision.
There’s no shortage of artsy platformers available, but Teslagrad is one of the most enjoyable I’ve played in some time. It’s varied, challenging and features a definite charm. If only it would’ve consistently performed a bit better.