Teslagrad was an indie platformer title released in 2013 that seemed to have had some fairly decent reception. Unfortunately I really cannot why. Well technically I can but I do not find it to be a logically sound reason. Teslagrad is a game that looks nice and sounds nice, and it seems fun at first, but a lot of its design flaws are very subtle to the point where the average player won’t realize they are there. Do not get me wrong, they will in fact experience these flaws, but they will likely not see them as such despite them for some reasons that I plan to explain shortly.
There are often some aspects of games that just go unquestioned and are generally accepted in games despite them not being good choices. Teslagrad is what is often referred to as a Metroidvania title. These refer to games that are based around exploring and uncovering new areas of the map as you obtain new upgrades to your abilities. It should also be noted that these games are typically 2D and contain a lot of platforming elements.
While the sub genre’s forerunner Metroid and the later 2D Castlevania games, have had a more action oriented approach in regards to obstacles, Teslagrad is much more focused on puzzle solving. The main gimmick of Teslagrad involves using a magnetic force to traverse obstacles through various effects. Each puzzle in the game is based around something having a magnetic attraction, and you using either the same or opposite attraction of said object. This could be used to either cling to walls, to jump higher, or to slowly float up towards the source of said attraction. You also have the ability to alter the attraction of some objects to the opposite of their current ones.
At first, the puzzles in Teslagrad were fun and interesting. They involved some creative uses of the magnetic mechanics of the game and required the player to think outside the box in order to get through. Unfortunately it did not take long for Teslagrad to fall into a trap that a lot of puzzle games have, that trap being to make later puzzles reflex based. The purpose of a puzzle game is to use your brain to figure out how to advance, not your reaction speed. Despite this there were several points in Teslagrad where I needed to repeatedly attempt a segment simply because I couldn’t react fast enough.
Most of these segments would be questionable design choices even in a 2D action game let alone a puzzle game. For example, there was a room where you drifted up a wind current while needing to avoid electrical currents. The problem was that you were placed near the top of the screen so you would just barely see the currents before colliding into them. You also ended up drifting to the left naturally which would often make you fall out of the wind current and need to start over.
This is made worse by the fact that you die in one hit in Teslagrad; no health bar or anything. It got to the point where I have found myself fighting several bosses that would be more fitting in a Contra title than a puzzle game, yet was playing them with only one life. Given the amount of memorization that a lot of obstacles require, this is an unacceptable design choice that only serves to make the game tedious and frustrating. This defeats the point of Teslagrad being a puzzle game in that, even though I have proved that I know the solution, I still find myself needing to start over because I made a wrong sudden movement or didn’t have an attack pattern memorized.
Lastly, Teslagrad is just very shallow in terms of its Metroidvania aspects. The only upgrades to your abilities you obtain are mandatory plot related ones. These new upgrades do not increase your abilities or make you feel stronger more so than that they allow you to remove an invisible barrier that prevents progress. There are no secret upgrades to discover either; only scroll that do not affect the gameplay in any way and are just there because the developers thought “hey you like collecting stuff right? Well here you go!”
Since I have not mentioned them yet, I will say that the production values are nice. The art style is well drawn and runs very nicely. The music, however, is unmemorable and I can’t remember a single song from it. The storyline is practically nonexistent so there isn’t much to say there.
There is never really any feeling of satisfaction or progress in Teslagrad, and the game is just flat out boring whenever it isn’t frustrating. More critics need to realize that just because a game looks nice and is playable does not mean it is a good game. If people do not point these things out, then more games will continue to use them because developers will not see a problem with them. It is because of these design choices that I find myself developing distaste for puzzle platformers in general. I like the idea of them, but if they are going to keep making these mistakes then I do not see the point in spending my money on them.
If I wanted a game based on reflexes and quick thinking, I’d play an action game. At least then the game will be based around it. Teslagrad, however, tries to do two things but fails at both because the two things go together like ice cream and gravy. I ultimately found Teslagrad to be unsatisfying and not very fun to play. There is no shortage of retro styled Metroidvania titles on Steam, so it is not as if Teslagrad doesn’t have any competition. As such, I’d suggest passing on Teslagrad, as it turns out that opposites do not always attract.
This review was originally posted to GameFAQs on December 14th of 2015 and has been updated for posting on this blog as a placeholder for my current review schedule. You can read my newer reviews one week before they are posted on Guardian Acorn if you pledge $1.00 or more to my Patreon account. New reviews are are posted every Monday. You can also follow this blog if you would like to be kept up to date on my stuff, or you could follow me on any of my social media pages (listed at the bottom of the page) and could stop by The Guardian Acorn Discord chat if you would like to talk to me and my homies.