Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, WiiU, Xbox One
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Rain Games
Release Date: Dec. 7, 2017

About David Silbert

I'm a recent college graduate from Boston, MA. When I'm not writing for WorthPlaying, I'm probably researching Celtics trade rumors or struggling to keep up with the growing library on my Nintendo Switch.


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Switch Review - 'Teslagrad'

by David Silbert on Feb. 9, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Teslagrad is a puzzle platformer with action elements, where magnetism and other electromagnetic powers are the key to moving throughout the game, and thereby discover the secrets kept in the long-abandoned Tesla Tower.

While many of today's games fight to be bigger, badder, and more ambitious than ever, others find solace in their simplicity. The 2-D puzzle-platformer is perhaps one of the best examples of this. From Braid's tranquil time-manipulation riddles to Inside's silent narrative, games of the genre are built upon refinement of the basics: jumping, running and puzzle-solving. That isn't to say these games lack complexity. Braid will rack your brain, and Inside your nerves, several times over before all is said and done. It's this combination of simple mechanics and surprising depth that makes 2-D puzzle-platformers so engaging.

Teslagrad, developed and published by Rain Games, is yet another entry in this crowded genre. Initially released for PC in 2013, Teslagrad gradually made its way to the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Vita, Wii U and Xbox One before landing on the Nintendo Switch. Sporting a hand-drawn aesthetic and steampunk depiction of industrial Europe, Teslagrad offers a distinct puzzle-platformer experience with shades of classic Metroidvania games.

With its inventive puzzles and secret-filled map, Teslagrad is an enjoyable experience that feels right at home on the Switch. While some poor level design and frustrating boss battles put a damper on the fun, Teslagrad is worth a look for fans of the genre.

Set in a steampunk European city, Teslagrad opens on a somber note. On a dark and cloudy evening, a man leaves a baby, presumably his son, in the care of a woman before rushing off into the night. Years pass without incident until, suddenly, a group of soldiers comes to reclaim the child, who's now a young boy. After a quick platforming sequence that serves as an introduction to Teslagrad's controls, players escape the clutches of the mysterious men and wander into the city's sky-scraping Tesla Tower.

A reference to the famed real-world inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla, Tesla Tower is filled with cutting-edge technology and electromagnetic phenomena. As players explore further within the massive complex, the young boy must overcome obstacles and enemies in order to uncover the secrets lying in wait.

Teslagrad's narrative is largely forgettable. Told through a mix of silent, storybook-like cut scenes, the story outlines the relationship between a sympathetic mage and a mischievous king. Since there is no dialogue, most of Teslagrad's bigger moments are left up to the player for interpretation. While satisfactory, Teslagrad's narrative is mainly an excuse to explore its vast and mysterious tower.

From a gameplay perspective, Teslagrad's tower offers a surprising number of interesting puzzles to solve and challenges to overcome. Each room contains a combination of different-colored panels; blue panels repel other blue objects, while red panels repel red ones. Certain objects, represented by walking mechanical beetles, carry a predetermined red or blue charge. Others, represented by mechanical caterpillars, carry no initial charge. By moving red and blue charges around the room, players are able to manipulate different gravitation pulls to clear a pathway to the next room.

While this sets the foundation for Teslagrad's puzzles, the game only gets more complex as it goes on. Early on, the young boy acquires a pair of gloves that can send red or blue charges to any metal objects they touch. Later on, he finds even wackier inventions, from boots that allow him to teleport short distances, to a cloak that gives him an electromagnetically charged aura. As the boy makes use of each of these new tools, so do the game's puzzles. One puzzle may involve dashing between barred cages, while another may require timely changing between red and blue auras to travel over a pit of spikes.

Regardless of the requirement, Teslagrad's puzzles are engaging and rewarding, in large part thanks to this variety of tools and challenges. Not all of the puzzles are made equal, however. Level design varies from clever and intuitive to clunky and imprecise. In the case of the latter, dashes are harder to make, jumps are tougher to land, and I found myself falling to many frustrating deaths. Thankfully, the former wins out more often than not, and Teslagrad offers an inventive array of puzzles for most of its five-hour runtime.

Linking these puzzles together is Teslagrad's elaborate labyrinth of a map. Taking cues from franchises like Metroid and Castlevania, Teslagrad's levels branch off into complex paths that feel almost daunting at times. Certain paths only become accessible after obtaining certain items, providing a satisfying sense of progression over the course of the game.

Outside of the main puzzles, 36 collectible scrolls scatter Teslagrad's map. Many of the best puzzles are hidden in secrecy, withholding these collectibles. Eagle-eyed players will need to scour the map and go off the beaten path if they are to uncover all the secrets and puzzles Teslagrad has to offer. The effort is almost always worth it, however, and Teslagrad's winding, secret-laden map does a great job of adding to the game's sense of scale.

At certain points during the campaign, players are tasked with overcoming one of Teslagrad's several boss fights. From an incinerator that breathes fire to a bird that lays self-destructing chicks, the bosses in Teslagrad are towering monstrosities that put the player's current arsenal of tools to the test. In true boss fashion, defeating each of these creatures yields an additional tool that will help players progress further into Tesla Tower.

While thoughtfully designed, these bosses tended to feel overly frustrating. Many times, I'd dodge an incoming attack, only to find that I'd done so a split second too soon or too late to come out unscathed. Couple this with a one-hit health system that forces a retry after a single mistake, and Teslagrad's bosses are unfortunate stumbles in what is otherwise an enjoyable campaign.

Tying together Teslagrad's adventure is its presentation. Characters and enemies come to life with hand-drawn animations and expressions, while backdrops use sharp textures and pleasant, if muted, scenery to good effect. The soundtrack, meanwhile, offers an enjoyable mix of ambient gongs, drums and synth to sell the vastness and mystery behind Tesla Tower. It may take a backseat to the gameplay, but Teslagrad's presentation serves as a nice complement to the puzzle-solving action at hand.

Teslagrad is a fun little adventure that works well on the Nintendo Switch. Its forgettable story is easily forgiven since smart puzzles, a well-designed map, and carefully hidden collectibles extend the life of the game. Frustrating bosses and the occasional poorly designed level bring down the experience, but not enough to quell Teslagrad's electromagnetic current. Fans of Metroidvanias looking to work their brain and reflexes should enjoy what Teslagrad has to offer.

Score: 7.5/10

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