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Monday, January 19, 2015

Review: Teslagrad

There's magic in this game about SCIENCE.
Indie sales, indie sales. I just love some indie sales.

I saw Teslagrad was discounted on the eShop this week and decided it was time to finally pick it up. I had been curious about the game ever since I saw a video of the first twenty minutes on a news website, and I do love me some electricity, so I was eager to see what exactly was going on in this title.

After playing it, I feel a bit torn. It wasn't what I was expecting.


-Clever, if not standard, puzzle platforming design.

-Satisfying sense of progression

-Moody aesthetic works well with the electricity theme.


-Ending undermines aesthetic quality.

-Unpolished map design

-Gravitational effects are imprecise.


I guess my first impression of Teslagrad was that it was a electro-punk styled title utilizing positive and negative forces for puzzles. I got the gameplay part right, but the atmosphere was... different. I'm not sure what to think of the story in Teslagrad, honestly. The tower that you explore does not seem to have been inhabited for a long time, but the game opens with some sort of strange revolt and the main character leaving home for an unclear reason. To fulfill his destiny, perhaps? There's certainly a fate aspect going on here, but the execution feels sloppy. There's one rageful older character who hounds you the entire game up until you defeat him in combat, but after that, he finally shows remorse and even saves you from wreckage later on. What is his motivation for doing so? Why does he play a adorable puppet show for you about how he murdered hundreds and then look sad mere seconds after he tries blasting you to pieces?

The puzzling is fortunately a bit tighter than the story, and though is can become a bit ambiguous during certain points, there's nothing too complex to become stumped with. You use electromagnetism, invert polarities, and die a lot to hazards that send you back to the start of the room. I understand the use of a one-hit-done system for a puzzle platformer, but it doesn't lend itself very well to boss battles, which are essentially exercises in pattern memorization. Still, it's not too frustrating, as screwing up a puzzle means your one short hit away from restarting the challenge.

What I don't particularly enjoy, however, are the unsteady physics the game throws at you. The reverse polarity hovering is one particular instance of this, where the character can find themselves failing multiple times in an area because the polarity angle isn't just right, or because they didn't activate their powers at the correct time. Sometimes the gravitational field feels very lenient and sometimes it's brutally unforgiving, and there's really no way to tell what is what or how certain fields are going to effect you. The game throws tight platforming situations at you with little movement space and expects your jumps to be precise when you can never really understand the effect a polarity will have on your character- yes, there's the obvious pull and push, but more specifically, the angle at which you are pushed varies a great deal. Sometimes, polarity has a hard time dealing with your mass- add in body-specific opposing polarity and you end up being screwed more than often by the game's uneven mechanics.

Also, the map is pretty bad.

The moodiness of the art style and the mysterious soundtrack give this game a lot of aesthetic charm. The emptiness and wonder of the tower is emphasized by the dark and brooding art style. But in the game's finale, the tension and atmosphere are ruined by the odd inclusion of additional enemies who serve as nothing more than fodder for your ridiculously powerful attacks, disintegrating against their electrical powers. For a game that sympathizes with the plight of the pacifist, murdering these people is in poor taste, especially when you are shown the sadness and horror of death moments later. The final boss feels very different from other encounters- in fact, it actually feels a bit comedic, with the boss' animations being much sillier and ridiculous than any of the previous foes. It lacks the sinister presentation that the other bosses possess, which had little buildup yet were animated more simply and aggressively. The final boss also haphazardly throws unfitting obstacles in your way as a method of increasing difficulty, while no other boss seems to possess this sort of progression and instead feel more logical and contextualized.

But maybe I'm over-emphasizing the flaws. What Teslagrad does well feels very polished and gripping, and for the most part, its progression is very smooth and the design is solid. It just feels too frequently unsteady in tone at some times and questionable in mechanics at others. I can't say it wasn't a fascinating experience, but it was as imbalanced as trying to float with reverse polarity over a ball.

Final Verdict: There's good ideas and fantastic presentation in Teslagrad, but some of its concepts feel a bit half-baked. However, it feels like a high-quality independent title and feels satisfying enough, just don't try to think too hard about the things that are a bit uncertain. It's better if things are ambiguous... like my opinion of this game. Right?

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