Any good puzzle sets out a seemingly impossible task yet provides you with all the tools necessary to solve it. A great puzzle conceals the most vital tool, one’s ingenuity. In more recent years, Braid and Limbo did this well. They made the puzzles less about how to put the pieces together and more about how to realize and apply what you already knew. It’s for this reason that Teslagrad isn’t a better game. Though it offers some original puzzle design, presents a beautiful aesthetic and an original narrative-style, Teslagrad often makes luck the central tool to ascend the electrified tower.

In a steampunk version of Old Europe, one man survives the onslaught of an invading force and flees to an adjacent city to find a place for the new-born baby he carries. Leaves fall and snow drops. The snow melts and leaves sprout anew. The seasons pass. Torrents of rain see the army ransacking the city a few years later. You are the baby, but now old enough to escape your pursuers through the streets and across rooftops. The army’s leader forces you into a tower at the edge of town. Forced to ascend, the player navigates this serpentine structure teeming with experiments envisioned by Nikola Tesla; electricity crackles and molten steels flows to power endless levels of machinery.

As the name implies, Teslgrad’s central mechanic rests in mastering the forces of magnetism. The key to every puzzle hinges upon a simple rule: opposites attract, likeness repels. Represented as blue and red, the invisible force fields are your greatest ally – when used well anyway. Every stage comes with its own death zones, often in the form of pools of lava or electrified tethers. Once armed with the ability to magnetize yourself or objects and a versatile dash ability, the stages in Teslgrad demand mastery of its tools, timing and, more oft than not, repeated attempts. Luckily, trial and error is encouraged and forgiving. Upon death, the player respawns at the beginning of each discrete stage, which reduces much of the frustration from some of the grander puzzles. Still, I felt detached from the experience at times. Some levels require moving objects to specific to places. And once those objects were beyond reach, I was forced to kill myself to restart the stage.

As puzzles in themselves, boss battles present the most challenging and rewarding segments. Whether fending off balls of energy or imbuing objects with the right magnetic allergens, boss battles require quick and precise manipulation of all the learned tools. What the boss battles have, however, is what the door-to-door experience lacks. Ingenuity. And this is in large part due to how the magnetism works. With arbitrary dead-zones and no real way to judge the power of an object’s resistance/attraction, soaring through stages often derives from luck rather than skill. The satisfaction feels almost stolen, when solving a puzzle can be tossed up to accidental success. Though this problem only arises in some of the more intricate stages, it diminishes the overall feeling of accomplishment. It seemed as though the game played itself, while I stood passively waiting for the force fields to work themselves out.

It’s a shame, because Teslagrad impresses on every other front. Hand-drawn art gives the tower personality, and the fluid, natural character animations resemble something from Disney’s early and endearing past. The tower the player navigates is its own character. As dark beasts prowl the depths, foliage overgrows the derelict, and a gargantuan cage houses birds of prey, ascending the tower feels like a journey through the recesses of a scientist’s dilapidated mind.

The score serves the environment well. Violin cords chill and deep piano keys forebode what sadistic machinery lies ahead. And the way the story is told deserves mention. As all plot details are shown in abandoned theatres littered across the tower and no lines of dialogue appear, Teslagrad embraces a show-not-tell narrative philosophy. This helps put the characters, including the tower, at the center of the experience.

But in the end gameplay is king. Despite some clever boss sequences, the rest of the puzzles in Teslgrad leave something to be desired. It doesn’t lack substance, only execution. And this steals much of the control and creativity away from what makes puzzles so satisfying to solve.

Review: Teslagrad
Though far from being a bad game, the luck involved in some of the more intricate puzzle detracts from one’s ingenuity. The way Teslagrad squanders moments of accomplishment hold it back from greatness
Pros:
  • Beautiful aesthetic
  • Impressive boss battles
  • Elaborate puzzles
Cons:
  • Inconsistent gameplay mechanics
  • Luck often precedes skill
7Overall Score
Reader Rating: (5 Votes)
8.6

About The Author

Contributor

Since his parents scraped every last penny to put a Nintendo 64 under the Christmas tree of 1996, Adrian has maintained a passion for video games. When his hands aren't sprawled over 'W', 'A', 'S' or 'D', Adrian churns out a few sentences, and sometimes paragraphs, about the games that graze an emotional touchstone.

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