I'm not sure exactly what I expected Teslagrad to be.
Having known next to nothing save its name going in, I still had some vague, unshakable idea about what exactly I was in for, and I wasn't too enthusiastic about it. But then I was introduced to the first magnetic mechanic and all I could think was "wow, this is really cool."
That's something I kept thinking again and again as I got higher in the tower that houses the game's levels, with each new area bringing with it a new twist on mechanics I, for whatever reason, had mapped out in my head before even pressing start, It continually and cleverly subverted the concepts I've come to associate with games of its ilk, smartly introducing new mechanics that build upon those that come before, while simultaneously developing a rich medieval steampunk world for me to get lost in.
There's not a single line of dialogue in Teslagrad, be it written or spoken or even just a tutorial, and yet it manages to create this abundantly interesting narrative of a kingdom obsessed yet terrified of technology, and the power it brings with it. Paintings, reenactment cutscenes, and pieces of the environment are used to tell this story subtly, in a way that hides most of its simplicity and had me wanting to find out more about it up until the very end.
Similar methods are used for each gameplay hook, most of which involve manipulating magnetic polarities. Tools are trickled out to you and then liberally experimented with before giving you another to try and work with, which creates an invisible learning curve as you apply what you already know to the new obstacles placed before you. Teslagrad is always conscious of making sure you understand it, and giving you time to figure things out without punishing you for mistakes or taking too long.
That is, except for the boss fights. Though they're likely the coolest moments in the game, these few encounters are rife with tedious and agonizing trial and error death loops, with one hit kills and the complete lack of checkpoints causing them to go on far longer and be much more annoying than they otherwise would be. It's not even that many of the bosses are that hard to defeat once you understand their patterns, but they're so pattern based and often consisting of numerous different parts that you're left with no choice but to die over and over until you've memorized their every move and can play them back exactly. There are a handful of moments like this in various puzzles throughout, which stand out all the more starkly because of how well the rest of the game avoids falling into the same traps.
The inconsistent difficulty was rather a lot more frustrating than I'm making it out to be, but that should also say something about the quality of the game outside of those moments, which I was enjoying so much as to push through the times I was ready to snap my controller in half and curse my reflexes to hell. It's a gorgeous, clearly guided journey in a genre that's become more and more uninspired and cluttered, positioned awkwardly among its less impressive peers that will likely cause it to be passed over in the deluge. And that would be a horrible thing indeed.You can read more of my writing on Kritiqal.