Developer(s) – Rain Games
Publisher(s) – Rain Games
PEGI – 7
The debut title of Norwegian indie outfit Rain Games, Teslagrad is a Metroidvania game heavy with puzzle-solving elements as well as elaborate boss fights from beginning to end. It was released to positive critical reception back in 2013, praised for its unique art style and brand of gameplay, but criticized for its supposed steep difficulty. After playing it, I also received it quite positively, but my concerns about the game were in places different from many other critics.
Graphics – 9/10
First of all, the artistic direction taken with this game is in my opinion nothing short of phenomenal. Combining medieval fantasy with steampunk culture, the character designs (particularly that of the player character), are also seemingly influenced by rubber hose animation; somewhat similar to Cuphead, but on nowhere near the same scale. Parallels with other games, however, are difficult to come across with this title in terms of visual representation. Simply because there are very few games I’ve seen like it. The only prior game to this that I could think had an impact on this title is Heart of Darkness, as the common enemies (the Grues) closely resemble the shadow creatures found in Eric Chahi’s puzzle side scroller. The Grues can also be killed in an identical fashion towards the end of Teslagrad to how the shadow creatures can be killed in Heart of Darkness. But I digress; Teslagrad is visually compelling with a lot of diversity in scenery design and combining different cultures and periods in time to form its own cohesive concept.
Gameplay – 7/10
Though not having a great deal of depth in combat (at least not until the latter stages of the game), the player is kept busy throughout, having to solve puzzles every step of the way, and most often than not, getting through boss fights using acquired gadgets as opposed to conventional weapons. There is also a collecting side quest the player can undertake in order to piece together the game’s tragic yet gripping back-story. Whilst playing, though I was challenged by the puzzles put before me, I found that the difficulty level was by no means too frustrating, as many other outlets seem to think; certainly not difficult in the same sense as a traditional Castlevania or Mega Man game. I actually ended up enjoying it quite a bit. My favorite aspects of the gameplay by some distance were the boss fights, however. Each one was more elaborate than the last, and all having a certain sense of foreboding about them from beginning to end. The game’s soundtrack added a great atmosphere to the game in general, but it’s in the boss fights where the music truly stands out.
Controls – 10/10
Playing out like a traditional Metroidvania game, it functions on the basic principle of 2D side-scrolling mechanics, with which there are no problems in Teslagrad. But more interesting than that are the unique mechanics that are employed with each gadget the player obtains throughout the game. I particularly liked the magnetism mechanics, which allow the player to attract themselves to platforms or objects to either solve puzzles or get around. They also play a significant role in one of the later boss fights.
Lifespan – 4/10
Lasting just shy of 6 hours, Teslagrad falls short on lifespan compared to a vast majority of Metroidvania games; even indie ones such as Dust: An Elysian Tail or Axiom Verge. It was the main gripe I had with this game. Whilst I was able to thoroughly enjoy everything the game had to offer, I felt it could have easily been made to last much longer than what it does; especially with the inclusion of a few more side quests here and there as opposed to just having the one. The level of combat that is introduced late on in the game would also have warranted even more lifespan than what it has, since it does change the feel of the game significantly, and I liked to have seen more done with it.
Storyline – 8/10
The game’s story follows a young boy growing up as an orphan in the city of Elektropia. One day, whilst on the run from the authorities that be, he comes across a huge tower called Teslagrad, where he learns of Elektropia’s violent and tyrannical history, and he seeks to solve the mysteries lying within the tower and eventually to overthrow the king. Particularly for a game with either no text or dialogue, I found the game’s story to be fantastic. There are strong elements of a tragedy similar to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as well as that of totalitarianism reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984. I wasn’t prepared for exactly how much depth in back-story there was to this game, and when I got to experience it, I was transfixed from beginning to end.
Originality – 7/10
In terms of gameplay, it’s the mechanics that make it stand out among many other Metroidvania titles; as I’ve alluded to many times already, the boss fights are more than noteworthy. The game’s story stands out as well, as I’ve very rarely seen games, which have as much depth in back-story as in the main story, and one where the back-story plays as just as significant a role as the story going forward does. I had found all the scrolls given with the side quest, as I wanted to know as much about it as possible and I wanted to dissect for myself every ounce of its depth. There aren’t many games that are this story-driven as which that I generally believe warrant any more than a six out of ten, as they tend to undercut the gameplay. But with this title, there is a nice balance between the two.
Overall, Teslagrad, though for how short a time it unfortunately lasts, is a gripping game in terms of both story and gameplay. I enjoyed having to solve whatever puzzle was put towards me, and defeat whatever boss I was put into contention with. And whilst it wasn’t an overly easy game, it wasn’t an overly difficult one either, as what many people seem to think. And whilst I found myself left wanting more (which is where their follow-up game World to the West comes in), I really liked what depth this game had to it despite its short lifespan.