Teslagrad is a 2D puzzle-platformer, where you play as a young lad who suddenly finds himself embroiled in an ancient conflict that will shake the foundations of his entire existence, and bring a gruesome truth to light.
The game revolves around the use of electricity and magnetism, and your ingenuity will be put to the test as you employ the amazing technology of the Teslamancers to traverse the abandoned Tesla Tower.
The game is completely devoid of both text and dialogue, and prefers to tell the story purely through visual means.
The game revolves around the use of electricity and magnetism, and your ingenuity will be put to the test as you employ the amazing technology of the Teslamancers to traverse the abandoned Tesla Tower. The game is completely devoid of both text and dialogue, and prefers to tell the story purely through visual means
December 13th is the big day, our journey towards the end is finally over. After two years of drawing, programming, building, tearing down, rebuilding, testing and long days and nights, we're done. Teslagrad is being released into the wild, and we're very pleased with how it looks.
Nikola Tesla, the electrical engineer from whose life and work the game borrows its name and ideas, once built a tower in New York, but this is a different sort of place, more like an electrified castle filled with Castlevania-esque nooks and cellars. The tower rises spectacularly, the centrepiece of an unspecified European capital, which now burns around its foundations in war's ugly afterglow.
Teslagrad is anything but ugly, however. Its expressive hand-drawn art is at times reminiscent of Winsor McCay's Little Nemo, but there's a Scandinavian flourish that adds melancholy to the folksy charm. Crackling bolts of blue electricity and red, sinister droning magnetic fields offset the browns and yellows of the tower's bricks. Creeping bugs, cloying shadow figures and bipedal robot giants patrol its floors, a curiously diverse gallery of squatters in a place whose original function is never made obvious.
Teslagrad's soundtrack, composed by Jørn Lavoll and Linn Kathrin Taklo from Bear & Cat Music Production, is both haunting and memorable.
One area houses a giant tree, its branches tenaciously grasping its leaves in the overcast air; another is filled with conveyor belts that courier dollops of scrap metal off to who-knows-where. Other rooms are dedicated puppet theatres, used by the designers to stage short plays, which tell the whisper of a story in a game that belligerently shuns any text and dialogue. Tesla's Tower is the architecture of a fever dream, as if jotted down by its dreamer at daybreak.
Structurally, the game follows the Metroidvania tradition. You begin as a powerless young boy, fleeing the town's occupying forces by scrambling over rooftops. The Tesla Tower initially offers simple refuge from the soldiers, but as the game unfurls, you discover discarded tools within its walls and new areas duly open up for exploration. There's a glove which can be used to infuse objects with electrical charge, a trinket that allows you to dart a few metres through the air in the blink of an eye, a fur-lined hood that allows you to set your own polarity and others'.
In the main this is a platform puzzle game, many of its objects charged with red or blue electricity. These must be manipulated to attract or repel one another in order to create platforms and pathways where there were none. In time, even your own character can be imbued with magnetic charge and, as your range of abilities expands, so you are able to revisit previously explored areas to uncover yet more secrets.
Once you've perceived the solution to a puzzle there's then the tricky business of execution - this is a game that makes tall demands of its players' sense of timing and dexterity. This is never more apparent than in the game's intermittent set-piece battles with hulking mechanical monsters. In one area you fight a screen-tall gurning furnace, its eyes glowing with fire, its mouth sucking and grinding. In another, you must attempt to electrocute the belly of a mechanical bird as it flaps and claws at you, before laying eggs that sprout motorised minions.
The 'blink' ability, cribbed from Dishonored, works exceptionally well in a 2D platform game, although later sections demand exacting timing.
These fights are unusually and somewhat anachronistically challenging, requiring players to time leaps, dashes and attacks with painful precision. There are no checkpoints here and, as your character has no health bar, sustaining a single hit will force a restart from the beginning of the fight. There is a great deal of repetition to learn a boss's attack patterns. Moreover, these unblinking brutes require more than the Nintendo-stock three successful hits before they'll topple. Until you build up the requisite muscle memory they will block your progress through the much more easygoing exploratory sections of the tower.
The unevenness of the challenge extends to the exploratory puzzles, some of which are peculiarly convoluted. There's ingenuity to the designs, but the learning curve lacks an elegant trajectory, a typical issue for an independent developer without the gentle feedback of an experienced publisher to add some perspective and kink-smoothing guidance.
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