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Teslagrad Review

I'm a sucker for indie puzzle-platformers, but with new titles hitting the Steam front page seemingly on a weekly basis, you might be excused for wondering just how many other innovative mechanics can be mined out of the genre. Thankfully Teslagrad, a steampunk puzzle-platformer title by Norwegian developer Rain Games, is another fantastic game and can sit comfortably alongside other critically acclaimed games such as Braid, The Swapper and Fez.

Teslagrad begins with a cutscene of a mysterious-looking man leaving his baby with an unnamed woman. A few seconds later we are shown the same house several years later and the town ransacked by soldiers in search of the child. Now a young boy, he is forced to flee his home and is chased by the soldiers through the town into an enormous tower. As far as set-up goes, that’s your lot.


That’s not to say the game doesn’t have a good story; like the brilliant Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons, Teslagrad simply opts for visual storytelling rather than extensive text or dialogue. Backstory is portrayed through environmental cues in the tower - which acts as the setting for most of the game - such as wall paintings, posters and puppet shows. These optional vignettes tell a story of friendship, greed and betrayal, as well as answering why the soldiers are so desperate to catch the young boy.

It’s not the most original story, but by the end of the game I found myself drawn into the plot, despite the lack of traditional storytelling mechanics. The approach is a refreshing change of pace from the typical exposition and cutscene-laden plots that we have become accustomed to in other genres.

It’s all presented in a beautiful visual style that combines hand-drawn 2D art with 3D environmental objects. The game’s cartoon character sprites are smoothly animated and exquisitely rendered, resulting in a look that's reminiscent of classic Disney animations. While you can get a decent idea of how Teslagrad looks from the screenshots, it looks even better in motion, with clever use of depth and lighting to create a beautiful visual style.


From a gameplay perspective, Teslagrad is just as impressive. Unlike titles such as Portal which give the player a singular tool with which to solve puzzles, here you are given multiple tools over time. The game’s steampunk world offers several intriguing magnet-based gadgets. Firstly, the young boy finds Magnet Gloves which enable him to reverse the magnetic polarity of objects (represented by red/blue, rather than North/South) by punching them. As you might expect, same-coloured objects repel each other, and opposite-coloured objects attract each other. This makes way for some interesting physics-based puzzles and lays the groundwork for the sort of mind-benders you can expect from the rest of the game.

Touching certain items in the world also charges your character with a red or blue polarity, which allows for platforming puzzles whereby the boy can be pushed or pulled around the environment. The platforming is made more complex when you gain the Blink Boots: these give you the ability to instantly teleport a short distance forward. This move also allows you to bypass enemies and thin obstacles. Later on, you are given the Magnetic Cloak - which allows you to charge the boy with a red or blue charge at free will - and the Teslastaff - which grants the ability to fire a beam of electricity at enemies or to change an object’s polarity from a distance.

Having all these abilities at once, it’s easy to imagine the mechanics becoming overwhelming. Thankfully, Rain Games have done a great job of spreading out the powers to ensure that you never become too confused. Naturally, there were times when I became slightly bewildered at the game’s challenges, but this only added to the “eureka” moment upon figuring the puzzle out.  


As mentioned earlier, Teslagrad expects the player to use their intuition to discover its story, and the same is true of the game’s level structure; the colossal tower setting is varied and impressive in scope, but it’s not necessarily the easiest place to navigate. The structure allows you to work your way up the tower, unlocking new levels as you complete puzzles, but also allowing you to return to lower levels at any time via a tall room in the centre of the tower.

The open structure gives the game a feeling of freedom that doesn’t exist in other linear puzzle-platformers, but occasionally it can leave you wondering where you’re supposed to go next. Another issue with this structure is that in order to travel up the tower you have to stand in a magnetic beam and use the cloak to float up the chasm-like room - a slow and arduous process that can be undone in seconds by missing a platform or slipping outside of the beam.

There are issues in other parts of the game too, with the fiddly keyboard controls being a standout annoyance. I often found myself performing actions that I didn’t intend to, and even after an hour or so of playtime I was still not used to the controls. Thankfully, these can be reconfigured to a controller in the settings menu, but you’ll have to choose the bindings yourself, as there’s no preset provided by the developer. Once I’d found a configuration I was happy with - which took a fair bit of trial and error - I had no problems with the controls, but it’s a shame that the game doesn’t have full controller support, particularly when it needs it so badly.


 The only other thing I take issue with is the boss battles. The five bosses on offer are a mixed bag; while they all involve clever and novel uses of the mechanics, they also feature a heavy reliance on reflexes. It results in frustrating situations where you’ve figured out exactly what you need to do in order to defeat your foe, but end up dying repeatedly due to a particularly annoying attack pattern. It doesn’t help that dying requires you to restart the entire multi-phase boss from the beginning.

So, Teslagrad’s not perfect, it suffers from fiddly controls and frustrating moments in the campaign, but more than compensates for these issues with a beautiful visual style, impressive puzzles, and smart storytelling. Overall, Teslagrad is a stellar puzzle-platformer, and if it’s anything to go by, the genre still has plenty of surprises in store.

8.00/10 8

Teslagrad (Reviewed on Windows)

This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.

Teslagrad suffers from a few frustrating moments, but it more than compensates for these issues with a beautiful visual style, impressive puzzles, and smart storytelling.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Matt Girdler

Matt Girdler

Staff Writer

When he's not hunched over a computer programming, Matt can be found hunched over a computer playing and writing about video games.

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