The Wii U is increasingly becoming the indie developers (and indeed indie gamer’s) best friend, with an ever increasing number of once PC only gems finding themselves at home on the Wii U’s eShop. The latest title to make the jump from PC to Nintendo’s living room console is Teslagrad, from Norwegian dev team Rain Games.
Teslagrad can be best categorised as a 2D puzzle platformer, but that description only scratches the surface of what’s on offer here. After a moody menu screen backed by a melodic backdrop, Teslagrad throws you straight into its dark and unforgiving world. Rain lashes down from a dimly lit sky, pounding off every surface. A hard-nosed looking man darts from house to house, scaring people into fleeing for their lives. Most of them get caught, but one boy makes a success of running away. You take control of the boy, and the game begins.
Running and jumping across rooftops, the backdrop slowly changes from a scene that is dreary and residential, to the fiery heart of an industrial furnace. Teslagrad’s entirely wordless narrative is brought to life by the excellent art direction. The mixture of classic steampunk and 50’s style animation is absolutely gorgeous, and brings to life a fusion of the worlds of Limbo, Steamworld and Disney’s Pinocchio all at once. The story that unfolds shows us a world ruled by a ruthless king, who has suppressed a race of technological wizards that once resided in a massive tower in the centre of the city of Teslagrad.
So we know it looks good and tells a nice story, but how does Teslagrad actually play? From the offset, it’s obvious that this isn’t a pure platformer, as the way your character handles isn’t exactly genre-defining. Jumping can be imprecise and floaty, and it kind of feels like you’re running on ice most of the time. Thankfully, Teslagrad redeems itself by slowly ratcheting up the complexity, throwing in special abilities that you find along the way.
Early on our little hero discovers a pair of gloves that allow him to punch specific objects in the environment and turn them either red or blue. The red or blue colouring indicates that object’s magnetic polarity – and that is where the most of Teslagrad’s puzzling comes from. Being clever with magnetism is nothing new, however Teslagrad plays the magnet card very well indeed. You can use different coloured blocks to defeat enemies, open new pathways and create a magic carpet which you can use to cruise around the level. The use of magnetism isn’t restricted to objects in the environment, with your character able to take on a red or blue hue, allowing him to float above objects of the opposite colour. You take on the red or blue hue either by interacting with one of the many little robots wandering about, or walking through strategically placed plants (all of which are either red or blue in colour, indicating their polarity).
Another power afforded to you is the ability to teleport a couple of feet in front of the direction your character is facing, Dishonoured style. This power is the easiest to get to grips with, which is great, because it’s also the most fun. Darting around Teslagrad’s beautifully realised world is great fun, and does a good job of disguising the otherwise ropey handling. Put all of these puzzle elements together (something that happens early in the game), and you have a recipe for some real brain teasers. The deeper into Teslagrad’s world I got, the more out of my depth I became. This is coming from someone that has played 2D scrollers my entire life: Teslagrad is nails. You will flit from a real sense of achievement to unsolvable puzzlement, immense frustration and back again – and that’s just in the first hour or so.
Combat is pretty much non-existent, since our little dude dies at the slightest touch – adding to the games prominent “old school” feel. Level areas are bookended by boss battles – huge mechanical beasts that will push your skills to breaking point. You need to jump, dodge and teleport to avoid the boss’ attacks, all the while trying to hit it with a dose of magnetised death. In a world of one-hit kills, these are bosses that will test the most hardened of gamers. The difficulty here will really polarise (get it?) opinions on Teslagrad – 16-bit era gamers will love its unforgiving nature and will battle through to the end; as for everyone else? I’m not so sure.
Rain Games have created something beautiful in Teslagrad. Its opening scene alone should win some kind of award. Its mix of mind bending puzzles and unforgiving boss battles, not to mention some pretty hit and miss platforming, make it a game that will really split opinions. Fans of the genre will find a new hero in Teslagrad – but casual gamers should be wary.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
Review code provided by publisher.