Teslagrad’s opening scene is bold, beautiful, and utterly beguiling, cleverly drawing you into its world, without wasting a single second on needless exposition. Unfortunately – while certainly a lot of fun – the rest of the game fails to live up to the lofty precedent set by this prologue. It’s a shame, as hidden just below the puzzler’s finicky and frustrating surface is an absolutely sublime game.
As mentioned, the title’s story starts with a bang – an angry army member barges into your house, forcing your mother to cast you into the streets in order to flee for your safety. After running across the rooftops of the dreary dystopian city, you find yourself trapped in a monolithic tower. You quickly discover the bloodthirsty origin of the building, as well as some of its more aggressive inhabitants. The story unfolds from there, further exploring the mysteries behind the tower’s creepy caves and colossal cathedrals, as well as the slowly unravelling city below.
Impressively, the entire narrative is told without a single spoken or written word. Every detail is gleaned through a recurring and well contextualised plot device, as well as subtle clues hidden throughout the levels themselves. This also means that you’re free to decide how much story you wish to take in, which is always a nice touch.
At its core, Rain Games’ inaugural outing is a puzzle platformer in the purest sense. Its central mechanic involves the magnetic artefacts which litter the castle, as well as your proficiency at interacting with them. Early in the game, your character is bestowed the ability to change the polarization of these blocks, opening up a plethora of interesting and unique gameplay quirks.
Figuring out how these magnetic fields interact is the key to solving the puzzles, and doing so is often extremely satisfying. Indeed, several of the later challenges see you flying about the room at a dizzying pace, switching between fields in a gleeful and terrifying display of attractive acrobatics. Structurally, the game plays out in a vaguely Metroidvania-esque style; you’ll wander through the large castle – which, egregiously, does not feature any fast travel options – collecting various items and power-ups.
Speaking of which, each of these augmentations does a good job of cleverly expanding the central concept. In truth, these elements interact in relatively simple ways, but are often supplemented with impressively large set pieces which help to flesh things out. Thus, the challenges will rarely leave you scratching your head, but rather cursing your controller. Which is to say that it's usually the act of carrying out a puzzle’s solution which is difficult, not the act of deciphering it.
This wouldn’t be an issue if the controls were consistently up to the task, but unfortunately, they often lack the finesse required. Indeed, performing some of the more dastardly deeds can be an exercise in finicky frustration. What’s more, the lack of visual representation of the magnetic fields means that it’s often patently impossible to judge where you’ll land the first few times that you attempt a challenge.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the puzzler’s boss fights, which also represent some of the most heinous difficulty spikes in recent memory. These arduous slogs demand pin point precision, and must be completed without taking a single hit. Combine this with the fact that you often feel like the preceding levels haven’t adequately prepared for the battles, and the result is an incredibly frustrating experience.
Luckily, the same can’t be said for the title’s presentation, as this is an absolutely gorgeous game, with an art style that is as consistent as it is stunning. The backgrounds are lush and detailed, while the characters themselves are animated such that they sputter and spurt in the same style as a classic Disney cartoon. Similarly, the music is atmospheric, and goes a long way in maintaining the ebb and flow of tension throughout.
With stunning presentation, and a clever core mechanic, Teslagrad does a lot to impress. Unfortunately, its occasionally unwieldy controls, inconsistent difficulty, and needlessly challenging boss fights mar the experience. However, if you can look past these infidelities, you’ll find an incredibly unique and often satisfying puzzle platformer.