Teslagrad is a beautifully stylised game that hides the mind of a riddle based sadist. Beneath its veneer of elegantly crafted physics puzzles, stunning graphics and intriguing if simple plot lies one of the most addictive and infuriating systems seem on the latest generation.
Its built as a playful homage to Eastern European Sci-Fi and Steampunk, most noticeably with the art style reminiscent of the Eastern side of the Cold War, even down to the clothing. Given a name like ‘Teslagrad’ you know you’ll be delving into some Russian themes, but its impressive how far the game goes into creating such an strikingly coherent artistic theme. Playing as a young boy driven into a strange tower by an army of Red soldiers, you find yourself caught up in an elaborate Red vs Blue, with the history of Teslagrad told in quaint puppet shows throughout the tower.
Teslagrad doesn’t hold your hand either, allowing you free reign to explore the tower and collect cards with appear to be your only task from the onset. Its nice to have so few restrictions in how you can approach the game, in the classic Metroidvania style. Although it is a little daunting being left on completely on your own to best the tower, something that helps the player relate to the young hero.
Teslagrad is, throughout its short story, Limbo with more cheer. It will get the player to patiently learn every trick and trap, but without the heart wrenchingly cruel death animations. But unlike Limbo and its simple boy, our young hero in Teslagrad has a collection of magnetic and electrical powers to overcome tougher (read: seemingly impossible) challenges. From blinking forward to magnetising objects and indeed yourself you’ll find new abilities completely change the areas you can visit. This however means that memorising, and navigating some areas become so complex you’ll want a super computer close at hand to prompt you about that bottomless pit you’ve forgotten about for the millionth time. This mixed with the fact that Teslagrad must have been built on the moon for how floaty your character is makes for some annoying ‘definitely-not-my-fault’ deaths.
Dying has next to no consequence on the face of things, especially with near no loading times, as it draws the young boy to an earlier, less dead part of the level. But it’s the frequency of death that whittles down your sanity. Everything can kill you. Those weird shadow monsters: dead. Electricity: dead. Spikes: dead. Those glowing balls: dead. And with death you’ll be tasked with starting the puzzle over again, sometimes forcing you to inch towards victory one life at a time. About the only thing that doesn’t kill you is falling, though that comes with its own problems. As progress in the game tends to involve climbing upwards, you’ll find falling the bottom, where you’ll be check-pointed in case you die, can set you back monstrously.
It might sound like I hate Teslagrad, and I yelled it enough at the game itself that you could believe it, but like Super Meat Boy, Rayman and even Dark Souls before it, I keep coming back. Its simplicity is endearing, its puzzles challenging and its bosses satisfying. To turn away from this game because of one struggle is to miss the overwhelming good this game has with its near perfectly balanced platforming juxtaposed with some creative and rewarding puzzles.
Like many things in life the line between love and hate is both thin and blurry, and where Teslagrad sits upon it is up to the player. It is beautiful, it is well crafted, and its challenging. If these are selling points then Teslagrad is worth the frustration, otherwise maybe watch some ‘lets play’ and find out for yourself.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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