It's a dreary night, and a disheveled man carries a bundle close to his chest. Through the pouring rain, a face can be seen peeking from the bundle; it's a young child. The man leaves the boy with a woman, his mother?
, and leaves for parts unknown. Time passes, the boy grows, he is still but a child. Men come. They come for him. They force their way in, but the boy has already leapt through his bedroom window, onto the rain slicked rooftops. He runs. They chase.
The opening moments of Teslagrad set a tantalizing stage for what is to come. Dark and alone, silence from all but the storm and the racing footsteps of your pursuers. Upon reaching the tower, the promise of a grandiose adventure is all but assured. for all of its visual splendor, and the mystery surrounding the world, in the end, Teslagrad emerges as a beast only slightly greater than the sum of its often lacking parts.
The tower you will explore is filled with wondrous architecture, artwork and snippets of a tale of partnership, a burgeoning lust for power, and betrayal that followed. You'll discover more of the story of Teslagrad as you climb the tower, solving increasingly complex puzzles. Unfortunately, this complexity often comes more from the mechanics, than from the puzzle's ability to test your wit. The theme of Teslagrad is magnetism, and you soon earn greater abilities in pursuit of its control. Puzzles typically consist of moving blocks or repelling your way higher. Issues arise in that everything has its own physics, and pieces that you may need to move a specific way can be difficult to place, and not for lack of trying. Later puzzles even rely on your ability to repel yourself off of moving objects. Now while this sort of thing is of no real concern in a title such as Portal, in Teslagrad, the danger is far more apparent, and being hit even once will kill you and reset the portion of level that you're in.
In the majority of cases, this isn't a serious problem, as there are often checkpoints near more difficult segments, and even the most frustrating puzzles shouldn't occupy your time for more than twenty minutes. The real trouble occurs during any of the number of boss battles in the game, all of which suffer the dreaded three hits to kill motif
. Should any of these bosses' attacks hit you, it's back to the very beginning of each fight, leading to frustrating exercises of trial and error. The bosses can take up an unhealthy portion of your time in Teslagrad, and this is especially true one of the last bunch, who fails to exhibit a truly discernible pattern, due to the game giving physics to every moveable object.
Even with the frustrating boss encounters, and sometimes irritating puzzle design, the sheer beauty of the scenery often manages to quell the rising feelings of annoyance. As you progress, you will be treated to story elements in the form of short puppet plays, all of which lack dialogue, but are arguably stronger without, anyway. The mystery of your predicament is the greatest driving force in Teslagrad, as without it, I imagine many would quit at one of several specific points I can recall.
Lastly, as I feel it should be mentioned, the metroidvania aspect, and how much it pertains to the gameplay as a whole. You can go back and explore any room you've been previously, and there are indeed hidden pathways and secrets. These secrets come in the form of collectible cards, of which you will need to find 15 to even complete the game. And when I say "complete", I mean reach the credits, because to find the true ending, you must collect all 36 missing cards hidden all throughout the map. This sounds fun, and in most Vania style games, it is. But in Teslagrad, many poorly designed puzzles are not meant to be run backwards, and this can make exploration difficult.
Even as I complain of the gameplay elements, I still look fondly on Teslagrad for its story, visuals and unique attempt at magnetic manipulation, as flawed as some of it may be. And while I've beaten the game and seen the vanilla ending, I'm sure I will spend an equal amount of time gathering the remaining cards to see what secrets might be waiting for me at the end. I wholeheartedly recommend Teslagrad, flaws and all, for its incredible visual design and world that is far too grandiose and exciting to be brought down by the occasional, but potent, frustration.