How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. Teslagrad is fairly straight forward and linear for most of the experience, truly opening up only at the very end.
Primary Challenge: Spatial-Reasoning Puzzles, Tricky Platforming
Time to beat: ~5 hours
Review Info: Teslagrad was played on Steam.
Buy Teslagrad if you like…
- Physics Based Puzzles
- Collectable Hunting
- Difficult Pattern-Based Boss Fights
- Beautiful Hand-Drawn Animations
- Puppet Shows
▼ Review continues below ▼
I don’t usually talk about visuals in my reviews, primarily because readers can make their own judgements on that topic just by checking screens of the game, but for this game I think there’s a relevant analogy. Personally I love Teslagrad’s hand-animated style – just the visual aesthetic is inviting and the animations only get more creative toward the end of the game. However one of the first things that struck me starting this game was how bland the sound design is. Your story opens up with your child protagonist running from fascist government law enforcement, and it’s weirdly silent. What could have been an exciting chase scene to set the tone for the rest of the game instead felt confusing to me; it was a void in the presentation juxtaposed against what would otherwise be beautiful. This dissonance between artistic elements is unfortunately like all the other elements of the game as well. The core gameplay – like the art – is clever, unique, and praiseworthy. Some of the content design however – especially the bosses – are lacking, or perhaps simply inappropriate. Just like how some people who play their games with the volume down might not be as bothered by the sound design, many will be willing to overlook Teslagrad’s weaknesses and enjoy this game fully. Others might find themselves throwing their controllers in frustration and lamenting what could have been.
Teslagrad is more similar to room-based puzzle games like Portal or more appropriately Supraland. Your goal is to simply move to the next room, but the method to move forward involves puzzling together environmental elements using progressively more complex gadgetry. All of the puzzles in the game are centered around magnetism. Positive and negative magnetic energy is represented by red and blue colors, opposites attract and same colors repel each other. Manipulating these properties lets you float blocks into position, or even fly through the air yourself.
Physics based puzzlers like this live or die on the level design, and thankfully for Teslagrad this is the best part of the game. Combining the Puzzle Platformer with Metroidvania style ability upgrades is proven once again to be a fantastic way to keep things fresh and exciting. Each zone has you mastering ideas and gadgets, allowing you to move forward into the next area with the next new idea layered on. Because of how progression works, the game is fairly linear, but you are rewarded for going back to previous areas with new skills. Ultimately, in fact, you HAVE to do this a little bit. After you’ve collected the final power-up you’re presented with a gate that requires you to find around half of the game’s optional collectables to progress. If you’ve played Metroid Prime and you hated the last-minute artifact hunting in that game, it’s a lot like that. I personally like exploring around, but in general doing it through puzzle platforming without a lot of short cut mechanics mixed in isn’t really my cup of tea. You get a much better ending if you collect every single item in the game, but personally I was done with it after the bare minimum. If you’re astute you may not have to explore at all to achieve at least this.
The controls in Teslagrad have a high potential to be frustrating, thanks to having to keep track of what switching colors is going to do to your character, but for the most part the game keeps to one type of magnetism at any given time. There’s a bit of a missed opportunity there to really challenge the player with these mechanics, but there’s also the occasional puzzle that makes you grateful that they never did. One or two of the later puzzles felt less like I was solving the thing and more that I was playing an insane pachinko machine except with a confused boy inside of it. It’s entirely possible that my perceived solution wasn’t what was intended by the developers, but nevertheless my experience in some parts was more messing with the controls rather than guiding my character through a puzzle. This reliance on player dexterity over intellect might catch some players off-guard, especially if you were expecting a more brainy activity based on early impressions of the game.
The biggest reason twitch-based control becomes an issue later in the game is that you always die in one hit. In the regular puzzle levels this isn’t a big deal since checkpoints are plentiful, but when you have to fly up an elevator shaft dodging spikes or especially with the bosses, this one-hit death rule completely changes the mood of the game. The bosses especially feel completely out of place. They play out much more like those arcade quicktime event games, like Dragon’s Lair, rather than a puzzle platformer. I personally thought some of the bosses were really clever, but having to repeat the entire sequence from the beginning because of one mistake got old really fast. It just seems completely unnecessary to make it so punishing – even giving the player one extra chance would have changed the entire experience. And, of course, the last impression the game leaves on you is a long boss fight using these mechanics. It’s not that boss fights like these can’t be fun, it’s just in the context of a puzzle platformer it kind of forces you to play a game you might not want to play when all you really want to do is have fun with magnet puzzles.
As long as you’re aware that this game gets a little punishing later on, I think you’ll still find an overall enjoyable experience. Teslagrad is both beautiful and unique, two traits that make it worth considering alone. But like how its sound design doesn’t match up to its magnificent animated visuals, you may find that the gameplay clashes with itself just a little. If the ideas were separated into two different games they both might have been great individually, but as-is it narrows the niche of players that will wholly enjoy every element this game has to offer. What’s left is still a very much above average indie title, it just falls a little short of “great”, in my opinion.
Highly telegraphed boss fights are fun, once you get over the frustration of memorizing their pattern for a perfect kill.
There are a lot of skill-based platforming challenges connected with the puzzles, that fall just short of great due to some unpredictability.
Basic progression is pretty linear, though at the end the game it forces you to find at least half of the collectables you missed
Many physics puzzles will really work your brain - especially for the primary collectables. None feel unfair once you figure them out
Everything is cleverly told though puppet shows, though the basic premise and plot is pretty basic
Hand-drawn assets and well-done animations really give the world a unique feel,
Sound design and music doesn't always fit the mood of the situation, but none of it is straight up bad
Teslagrad is a completionist's game, not a repetionist's game. There's little to entice a second playthrough
Want a second opinion? See what other reviews say:
All Time: Very Positive
(85% of 1,454 Reviews)