Preview: Teslagrad Is Beautiful to Watch, Engaging to Try, and Fun to Play
When I recently reported on the upcoming action-puzzler Teslagrad coming from indie studio Rain Games, I was highly impressed by the beautiful hand-drawn environments, unique steampunk setting, Tesla theme, and the positive/negative charge mechanics of its puzzles. So impressed that I had to see more, to see if Teslagrad was as fun and engaging as it appeared in the trailers. And after trying out a large portion an Alpha build of the game, I’m glad to say that Teslagrad didn’t disappoint.
Teslagrad doesn’t wait to get the plot in gear. Rain Games have proudly declared that the game completely lacks any kind of dialogue or text, deciding to tell the narrative purely through visual means. The game starts off with action: scenes of soldiers inspecting houses and attacking victims is what causes Teslagrad‘s unnamed protagonist–the young lad you play as–to run away and eventually find his way to Tesla Tower.
The lack of any verbal or written text to explain anything also extends to the gameplay, which Teslagrad leaves largely to trial and error. The entire opening sequence teaches players the basics, like getting used to how the young lad moves, climb vines, and jumps distances, and uses the soldiers to add a sense of urgency and danger to the platforming. The timing and precision even this early in the game can cause players to panic, with well designed pacing that allow players to learn how to play the game, and then apply that knowledge just as soon.
But once inside Tesla Tower, players get a chance to breathe again, wandering about its strange environment and trying to make sense of the glowing platforms and objects that make up its interior. Again, this approach allows players to understand the settings of the game a little more, before giving players new places to explore and understand. This happens soon with the acquisition of the Tesla Glove, which gives the player the power to infuse certain objects and platforms with a positive blue charge or a negative red. It’s here where the meat of Teslagrad‘s gameplay fleshes out, offering a variety of puzzles that keep players engaged while solving their way deeper and deeper into the Tower.
The Tesla Glove isn’t the only way to manipulate the environment either. Inside Tesla Tower are Mechanical beings that can be used for puzzle-solving just as much as they can also lead to danger. One type of quadrupedal machine, for example, gives the young lad a certain charge when touched. This can be helpful, like when entering a current of energy that levitates the player for a short time until the charge wears off. This can also be fatal, like when close to a trap or hazard, and the charge attracts you or repels you right into death. This passive danger is a clever way to mix up the environments, putting the focus on platforming, but still constantly keeping players on their toes.
The other being, a mechanical slug-like creature, can be charged and sent on its merry little way to repel or attract platforms and manipulate the environment for you. This is also an interesting way of mixing up gameplay and giving players a slightly different variant on the mechanic the game is centered around.
As with most action puzzlers, expect to make mistakes and perish, sometimes often. This can be from simple mistakes when dealing with traps and hazards, and will be more frequent with the advent of later enemy types, like a particularly nasty black blob creature that seems hungry for young human flesh. Thankfully Teslagrad‘s checkpoint system is generous, often starting you somewhere close to your death so that it doesn’t take too long to attempt another go at a challenge. But one thing’s always for certain with Teslagrad: danger is all around you, in both the structures you climb and the strange fauna you encounter.
Rain Games was proud to announce the use of five “old school boss fights” in Teslagrad, one of which I encounted during my time with the game. This battle truly did feel “retro,” with me charging nearby blocks with a positive charge that the boss then sucked up into it’s titanic iron mouth. These exploded upon contact, causing it major damage every three times I succeeded. This would make the mechanical giant angry, to the point that it would increase the speed of the track that the lad was forced to move on, while shooting fire all over the stage. This also forced the poor young lad to avoid both the titan’s flames and the flames of the burning furnace that his mobile platform led to, requiring you to be quick and precise in very dire moments. After the three times that I made him swallow three explosive blocks, he finally perished, allowing me to head on to the next room.
And even at this point of the game, Teslagrad keeps it moving, introducing the Blink boots, which allow the lad to teleport/dash left or right a short distance. He can blink into and out of cages, past electric fields, and sometimes–with the right timing–right past danger. Not only did the Blink ability add a dimension to the action of Teslagrad, but it added a new component to exploring, providing that fantastic Metroid and Castlevania approach to exploring a 2D world. As Rain Games stated before, players are welcomed to explore the world as they choose, although this will mainly rely on how well players can solve their way out of obstacles and challenging puzzles. Players can also search for white orbs, which shut off electric fields, or try to find the next big fight. It’s up to you, and how well you approach puzzles.
I can’t gush about Teslagrad without taking at least a little time to talk about its visuals. Teslagrad is simply beautiful. There’s a ton of little details that go into the most minute things, like how little rain drops bounce off of the lad’s head during the rainstorm at the beginning of the game, and the face that the lad makes while climbing, which alternates between focused and driven determination and something like mild fatigue. Everything about Teslagrad seems to be made from the passion of its creators, which makes the game even more enjoyable to play.
The game ran well also, with just a few slowdown hiccups during the hour or more I played, but again, this is an Alpha build of the game that will be further polished over the following months. The game also loads incredibly fast, which makes jumping in easy. During my time on the game, I tried both a keyboard and gamepad control scheme, and found myself heavily leaning towards the gamepad, which, for me, just felt more natural.
Teslagrad is fantastic so far. I can’t wait to play the full version of the game when it releases this Fall to the PS3, PC, Mac and Linux platforms (and hopefully a Vita version, too, one day). For more information on Teslagrad, or to try it out yourself, check out the Teslagrad Desura page, the Teslagrad Steam Greenlight page and Rain Games’ website. Also check out the screenshots below, and the two trailers that have been released for the game.