One of the things that I am hugely thankful for, is how far gaming has come. Of course you have the technical aspects of it, as well as the innovation and creativity, but I remember so well when we in Norway got more and more colleges and universities offering the possibility to study not just animation and computer-design, but more specifically: game-design as its own study. While I saw myself more as a person that wanted to enjoy what was made rather than create my own entertainment, I loved the idea of more people entering the world of gaming, especially due to how indie games have become more and more popular. One of them was Rain Games with their game Teslagrad, a metroidvania-puzzle platformer. Intrigued by their trailer for the Wii-U, I bought it the day it was released for the console.
Show, don’t tell
We start off right from the title-screen where a man, presumably the protagonist’s father, leaves a woman with a child and ventures forth with a worried look on his face. As time passes the boy, who is our playable character, has grown into a young lad and the town is being raided. Fearing for his life, the woman pleads him to run away. As he escapes, he enters an enormous tower and gets trapped in it. Unsure on what is really going on, he ventures forth the only way he can: deeper into the tower.
As you journey through this enormous tower, you will see plenty of old illustrations, statues, and rooms in the backgrounds that tell what importance it once had. It is very well told through these areas and there are also some puppet shows that give elaborate more on what happened a long time ago. Who is behind these segments is also clever. However, what is the best part throughout this, is that there is not a single word uttered throughout the game. By focusing on showing and not telling, it creates a more coherent mystery through the world that gets more and more expansive. There are even scrolls that can be collected to tell more about the past. It might not be a grand story, but a really well told one.
Story Score: 8.5/10
Playing with magnets
Being trapped in a huge tower, we find ourselves in a metroidvania-style structure, with the center of the tower functioning as a hubworld for entering different segments easier. It is quite easy to know where you should go, but it always rewards the curious ones with elements we will get back to. You also have a useful map at your disposal, so you never feel confused on where you haven’t been or where you should go.
Our boy’s way of traversing throughout these areas are the abilities to jump, climb on specific surfaces, taking no falling-damage and grabbing ledges. While he starts of ill-equipped, he soon finds a couple of items. The first showcases what the game will focus on: the aspect of magnets and physics. By finding a glove that can turn certain surfaces into red or blue-colors, it will have an effect on other objects of either of the colors. Having the same will repulse the objects from one another and having them being different, it will pull them towards each other. This is a part of many of the puzzles you will come across throughout the game, and they are all fantastic. One of the biggest strengths it has, is not just how complex they can get, but also how they can affect platforming. For example, one part will have you turn a platform into either red or blue color, and then you must become magnetised, so you are pulled towards it and can climb beneath it. Right after, I had to change my color, so I could float over another platform with the same color as me to get to higher ledges. This is just a minor example, but the quality holds up throughout the whole game by becoming more and more challenging, which is fantastic. The other item are the blink boots. These will make you teleport a short distance for making longer jumps, getting through certain obstacles and dodging. The levels make good use of every item you get, and since these are the first you will acquire early in the game, I won’t spoil the rest, besides saying they are just as useful and just as fun to have as the other ones.
Besides the enemies that must be cleverly avoided, there are a couple of really intense boss-fights and they are all a treat, making you use the newly acquired items for a more intense puzzle-fight. All were a tough challenge, especially since our protagonist does not have a life-bar. If he gets hit, he will start at one of the well-placed checkpoints. They are far enough to feel like a loss, but never to the point where multiple of puzzles will have to be done again or backtracking is time consuming. By having such a good focus on exploration, different puzzles that also use your platforming-skills, each area bringing something new, I never felt bored or unchallenged. This was some of the best 4 hours of game-time I have had in a long time.
Gameplay score: 10/10
Art coming to life
Despite being in a dark and grim tower, we get some really intriguing visuals done with hand-drawn art. Every area is different from each other, ranging from dungeons, labs, a library, a factory and even some sort of a greenhouse. All have nice attention to details and are colorful, making each area feel creative and interesting. The effects some of these places have with lightning, weather or even multiple layers in the background, makes each place come alive. There are even some 3D-parts to certain areas, making the depths and scale of those areas feel even bigger. The animations for the creatures and our character is nice and all have an appealing and unique design to them.
From the uncomfy music-box, to huge symphonic tunes, the soundtrack does a great job creating atmospheres related to each area and setting. With a huge focus on violin and cello, it creates an eerie soundtrack that are sure to get under your skin at times, but also peak your curiosity.
Presentation Score: 10/10
Scrolls of history
The aforementioned scrolls are the hidden extras you can go out of your way to find. They are all well hidden behind puzzles that never felt too obscure. You will need 50% of them to get the normal ending, but it was never a chore to get this many and you will most likely have about enough by the time you enter the point of no return. Besides elaborating more about the past and present, collecting all of them will also give you an extra ending. The original ending does not feel unsatisfying, but getting all of them will give you something worthwhile, both in the ending and the story-telling.
Extra Score: 8.5/10
Teslagrad was a fantastic time. It combined puzzle-segments with platforming elements impressively well, told a good story without a single word, has beautiful visuals and music, and the collectables are a nice treat. I had a blast from beginning to end, and I believe you will as well.