by Jonathan Fortin
reviewed on PC
Twitch-puzzle games offer a unique challenge, testing both your brain and your reflexes. Games like Oddworld: Abe's Oddyssey, and even Portal to an extent, demonstrate how well the genre can work. Rain Games' sidescroller Teslagrad proves itself to be another great example, where solving the puzzles often requires quick finger-twisting reflexes. These are arguably opposite skills, so it is fitting they are combined together in a game about magnets.
Teslagrad has a unique emphasis on magnetism-based puzzles. Magnets in the game are colored either blue or red and react to each other accordingly. Say you have a red block in your way, and there are red magnets on the ceiling. They are repelled from one another because they are the same color. But if you change the block's color to blue, then it becomes attracted to the red ceiling, launching upwards out of your way and allowing you to proceed.
Of course, things don't stay this simple for very long. Throughout the game, you'll pick up several tools: a gauntlet that lets you change the colors of certain magnets, boots that let you jump several feet forward (similar to “Blink” in Dishonored), a robe that surrounds you with either red or blue magnetism, and yet others that I won't spoil. Soon you're blinking through electric walls, launching yourself up magnetic fields, and manipulating pathways for little robots, often while avoiding monsters or other deadly obstacles.
A journey through Tesla Tower
Teslagrad's story is minimal. Set in a vague European setting, you play as a boy fleeing from mysterious burly men. The boy soon ends up in a seemingly abandoned tower full of technological experiments. You'll spend most of the game ascending the tower by navigating its various rooms, each of which is a puzzle of its own. Dying (which you'll be doing a lot) sends you back to the beginning of the room. The game auto-saves for each room you enter.
The tower's backstory is revealed through various rooms that feature puppet shows. There is no dialog in Teslagrad; the game tells its story through images. While the result leaves much to the imagination, the vagueness of the story doesn't take away from the overall experience.
True to the brilliant scientist it is named after, Teslagrad has a lot of electric walls, laser beams, and other Tesla-inspired technology. The 2D graphics have a wonderful steampunk (or possibly dungeonpunk) vibe, mixing the charmingly cartoony with the detailed and gritty. It makes a great case for how you don't need cutting-edge next-gen tech to make a beautiful game.
Prepare to swear at this game. A lot.
Some players may be shocked by how difficult Teslagrad becomes. Indeed, the level of frustration is the game's main fault. To be clear, I don't think difficulty is necessarily a bad thing (Dark Souls is one of my favorite games) but in Teslagrad, it often feels like the difficulty comes from the various design choices not fitting together well.
Unique magnetism puzzles; beautiful steampunk-inspired graphics.
Moments of extreme frustration; slippery controls.