It’s rare for me to take on a game like Teslagrad. See, in an insurmountable mountain of indie puzzle-platformers, there’s sort of become a problem with the genre: they’re all vying for the title of Grand Master Mind Blower. Too many of these games hang their hat on the puzzles, relegating the platforming to very limited sections that seemingly only exist as filler until the next brainbuster.
Teslagrad stands out because it’s a game that’s not just about the puzzles, but about your execution as well. It ties its puzzles into the physics and platforming of the game, making for a cohesive experience that always keeps you engaged with what you’re doing.
The main mechanic of Teslagrad revolves around the ideas of electricity and magnetism, with most puzzles boiling down to two central components: push, and pull. There are two types of electricity to control (red and blue), and they act just like a magnet would: two red objects will push away from each other, while red and blue object will attract each other. Honestly, the game doesn’t do a great job of explaining this, save for a few drawings on the wall, but within an hour or so everything clicked and I was navigating through the world with relative ease.
Teslagrad isn’t the most difficult game. Though there are a few puzzles here and there that kept me tripped up, I was never banging my head against the wall for a solution. As I was saying, most puzzles involve manipulating objects –or yourself, with a certain upgrade – and then making the appropriate jumps, dashes, and switches between red and blue electricity to make it through the challenge. Even when they’re not particularly taxing, each puzzle feels rewarding, because I’m thoroughly engaged in the action of solving the puzzles. It’s just extremely satisfying to play.
There aren’t many upgrades in Teslagrad, but each one builds on the core mechanics, making upgrades useful throughout the entirety of the game. Boss battles build upon the concept, bringing together everything you’ve learned so far in unique, well-designed challenges. In one fight with a giant mechanized pterodactyl, a teleport dash allows you to get inside the enemy and act as a lightning rod, causing him to be struck by lightning. Outside, you’ll need to dodge explosives as well as teleport through strong gusts of wind. It’s a great fight and a definite standout moment in the game.
So: clever puzzles? Check. Fun platforming? Check. Unique and interesting boss fights? Check. But why are you doing any of this? Well, in an interesting design choice, it can be pretty unclear what’s happening in the world of Teslagrad because there’s not a single line of dialogue in the game. It’s up to you to piece together the plot. Even though I had a pretty good grasp of what was happening by the end of the game, I still felt compelled to head to the Internet to tie up some loose ends rattling around in my mind.
Teslgrad’s opening scene shows an older man dropping off a baby at some woman’s house. Some time goes by, and the house (along with the surrounding city) are attacked by an army. You take control of a young boy as he escapes the house and ends up being chased into Teslagrad tower. From here, you uncover new story beats by collecting tarot cards hidden throughout the tower. There are also little plays you can watch that breathe life into the world by adding history and context to the action. Though it essentially boils down to “stop the evil king,” the underlying tale is actually quite interesting and worth making the extra effort to piece together.
The combination of its initially inscrutable story and poor explanation of its mechanics didn’t get me hooked on Teslagrad up front, but the visuals sure did. It looks like a cross between a Professor Layton game and a Studio Ghibli film, and at times, it can be absolutely stunning. The art style is never overbearing or gaudy; it’s simply beautiful. The same can be said for the sweeping eastern European soundtrack. I only wish both the art and the music were featured more consistently. Some of the darker areas of the tower look fine, but don’t stand out nearly as much as other locations, and the most memorable songs in the soundtrack only appear a few times throughout the game.
By the time the credits rolled on Teslagrad, I was more intrigued with the game than when I began. It has a rewarding sense of progression and a nice, steady pace for the 5 or so hours it takes to complete. By the time I’d finished, I wanted more. And considering there’s a secret ending for finding all 36 tarot cards, I may just keep going. Teslagrad may not be the most challenging game and it’s surprisingly shy about trumpeting its strengths, but it stands strong as an example of a puzzle-platformer that’s equal parts puzzles and platforming.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Teslagrad is based on final PS Vita review code provided to us by the developer. The game launches on Vita on Tuesday, November 24th, 2015.