Teslagrad, a game clearly inspired by pioneering indie titles like Limbo and Braid, has a lot to live up to.
The thought of playing another atmospheric platform puzzle game where the story is only hinted at throughout the trial and error gameplay not only gets me incredibly excited but also nervous; what can Teslagrad do differently to step out of the shadow of the aforementioned games? Electricity. That’s what.
Teslagrad is built around one concept; opposite-charges attract, like-charges repel. It’s a gameplay mechanic that goes surprisingly far despite the simple nature of it. From interacting with objects to cause shifts in the environment to walking around as a human magnet, Teslagrad goes a surprisingly long way on such a simple concept. Whilst some of the puzzles are very difficult (and at times frustratingly so), the pacing of the game and its puzzles works very well.
Graphically, Teslagrad trumps nearly every other indie Wii U title. Set inside a mysterious tower in a post-war European city, Teslagrad’s visuals are absolutely stunning and there were multiple occasions where I simply had to stop playing to appreciate the gorgeous environments. The immaculate hand-drawn artwork and animation will certainly create an impression, with the deep shades of blue used throughout the game world making it clear that this is going to be a relatively sombre affair.
In terms of story, Teslagrad manages to somehow tell an intriguing story without the use of a single word. That’s right; it’s so minimalistic that you don’t have to read a single line of text throughout the entire game. The opening itself is a work of art; it’s a rainy night somewhere in Eastern Europe and a young boy is running away from a group of men who are trying to remove the family from their home. Sneaking out, the player must simply escape his attackers. Even early on, Teslagrad makes the player question the world the player is living in; just who are those men? Who is the young boy? And just what happened in this town?
Environmental storytelling is put to great use throughout the adventure, which is predominately a Metroid-vania style affair. Solving puzzles and exploring the world for secrets is much more important than any action, and the results are hugely satisfying. The only slight frustration is that there is no health system in Teslagrad; so small mistakes will often lead to death. This wouldn’t be such a problem if it wasn’t for the frustrating controls. It’s here that Teslagrad lets itself down.
The lack of analogue control in the player’s movement often becomes a source of great frustration and it makes even simple environmental puzzles become tiresome. There is simply nothing more frustrating in a puzzle platformer than understanding the solution to a puzzle but to struggle to control the main character. Thankfully, this is the only major disappointment in Teslagrad, a game that constantly punches above its weight.
It is, at times, an extraordinary video game. It looks absolutely beautiful, it’s atmospheric and it features some fantastic puzzles that will make the most experienced gamer scratch their head. These incredible highs are often ruined by frustrating controls, but thankfully they don’t ruin the overall experience. Rain Games have created a truly memorable title for the Wii U, and one that I can’t recommend enough to Wii U owners.