Teslagrad opens on a rainy night with a young boy running through the rooftops of a European town. Following a fluidly animated playable chase sequence, our protagonist reaches a massive tower harboring the history of his country and the powers of magnetism. Developer Rain Games’ title has all the inner workings of what makes a great indie platformer – a somewhat non-linear Metroidvania structure, environmental puzzles that build off a core mechanic, and a plot that you must unfurl on your own. For the most part, the elements effectively work together, but some physics issues mar the experience.
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The opening moments don’t reveal much about the young boy, but he gets his first ability shortly afterwards – the power to change an item’s magnetic polarity. The entire game revolves around the central mechanic of interacting with positively and negatively charged objects, signified through red and blue colors. Throughout, the single cornerstone of “opposites attract, like objects repel” provides the backdrop for a multitude of puzzles. I had initially thought this concept would grow stale, and yet I was continuously surprised by the clever ways Rain Games utilized it in environmental puzzles. Moving blocks and building bridges by operating electric currents were only the start. Later on, the ability to give myself a magnetic charge opened the doors for even more creative level design. Perhaps I needed to cling to the ceiling of the opposite charge or bounce off a wall of the same polarity. Or in an extreme example, I rolled up in a human-sized hamster ball manipulating my own magnetism for momentum.
The adventure progresses like a Metroidvania game; you travel through interconnected rooms and can use newly obtained powers to unlock secrets in previous areas…if you wish. Unlike most in the genre, the game is a fairly linear shot. There’s a central vertical tower that acts as a hub, and each door branches to a new series of connected puzzles. It’s a clean approach to a worn-out structure, and prevents the need to backtrack. However, there is one part of the game that breaks the pacing, in which you are required to go back and collect scrolls hidden throughout. On the plus side, the story unfolds as you uncover these collectibles and they’re not too hard to obtain. On the whole, Teslagrad’s map is well put together.
Unfortunately, the unruly physics didn’t always complement the level design. Often, I would find myself attempting to bounce off a “like” charge but instead float awkwardly, inches above the ground. In a sense, movement felt unpredictable; I couldn’t reliably tell where a block would go flying or which objects my character would attract or repel. Even my speed traveling though electrical current streams seemed random. As a result, knowing how to solve a puzzle and actually putting it in action felt disjointed, leading to unnecessarily frustrating moments.
Interestingly enough, the game calls for platforming precision, as seen with one of the boy’s powers: instantly teleporting over a short distance. It’s a fun ability that empowered me to explore and pass through obstacles. Many of the areas are designed with this twitch-reflex teleportation in mind, often requiring you to do so while simultaneously operating polarities. I loathed these challenges that asked me to think fast while somehow accurately maneuvering around the unpredictable physics. Not to mention it was tough to keep track of which button corresponded to which color charge; here’s a hint for prospective players – “red is right.”
Thankfully, the game is forgiving. You immediately respawn at the beginning of your current room upon death. The downside is that you instantly die upon a single hit. This mostly affects larger rooms and boss encounters – the latter of which are extremely difficult, but in that rewarding old-school way, demanding pattern recognition, lightning-quick reflexes, and mastery of the magnetism mechanic. Defeating a tough boss was so gratifying, even if I wanted to tear my hair out during the battle.
Bosses are also impressive sights, as are the character and background designs, thanks to the striking art direction. The world is animated with such fluidity and life, despite the game’s purposefully drab backgrounds and focus on machinery. Likewise, the ambient, quiet music serves the melancholy tone, rising in volume only during story sequences or enemy encounters.
Teslagrad takes the single premise of magnetism and stretches it out through a good three to four hours of gameplay. The main character’s abilities to manipulate the environment pave the way for incredibly clever puzzles. Controlling the boy and moving objects aren’t always predictable or intuitive, making some challenges feel artificially difficult. Nevertheless, the title has made a positive jump over to the Nintendo Switch and is recommended for fans of 2D Metroidvania platformers.
Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was originally written on DarkStation.