A young boy roams an industrial tower, besting its perilous puzzles and mastering its gadgets in Teslagrad, developer Rain Games’ meticulously intricate Vita port of their precision platformer. The story goes that under the corruption of a nefarious King, a young boy escapes and makes his way through Tesla Tower. It is here that he is forced to advance through an elaborate labyrinth of rooms, each presenting their own puzzles and dangers.
The gameplay itself is where Teslagrad really earns its name. The mechanics are predominantly based around magnetic boxes which the player must punch with an equally magnetized glove in order to remold the environment and progress. A blue box lies in your way, for example, so you look up and see another blue box hanging from the ceiling. Punching it with the correct hand re-colors this box red, and the magnetic force of the hanging blue box pulls it up out of your way. This is a primitive example of the main function. In reality, Teslagrad uses this magnetic mechanic in such an imaginative style that it becomes a compelling exercise in logic and exploration.
Developer Rain Games has hurdled the trap of using a mechanic that works to death. Instead of being repetitive and frustrating, the magnets become an integral part of the way you think in the game, resulting in an integral process of gameplay becoming a highlight in overall experience. The employment of this mechanic differs nearly every time you come into contact with it. Magnetize enemies or roaming bugs in order to change boxes you can’t reach yourself, or in a particularly ingenious section, magnetize yourself in order to attract small lights to guide your path in a dark room. It’s telling of a well designed gameplay experience when you gain abilities purely through the player’s realization of what you can do with the one you are given.
Gameplay doesn’t just excel in the central mechanic however. The puzzles themselves are a winning combination of logically sound and fiendishly difficult. In certain situations, the only option is a trial and error approach. Nonetheless, the set up and atmosphere of the game encourages players to relish stopping and constructing an intricate plan of how to proceed.
Teslagrad is very much a “I wonder if this works” type of puzzle platformer, however the freedom that you feel as a player when your plan does work is immeasurably organic. The fact that these puzzles also require a certain level of skill that comes with practice feels refreshing in today’s market of point and click puzzle games where you click on the correct object and immediately progress. Persistence and determination are rewarded throughout lending the player a unique level of self satisfaction.
The game plays nicely with Vita controls, and the astute autosave function comes in very handy on a portable device. While it doesn’t incorporate the second analogue stick, this is forgivable considering the mapping of the abilities controls to the right hand side of the console. The port could have also made use of the touch screen in gameplay itself, however this may have clouded the simplicity of the mechanics.
This high level of gameplay isn’t quite matched by the design of the game, though it does no wrong in itself. A good level of detail, with precise and constructive backdrops makes for a visual experience that is attuned with the tone of the gameplay. The visuals do a good job of keeping up with the level of standard set by the PS4, only really falling short in their vibrancy of color. The minimalist music brings the experience together however, and creates an almost soothing rhythm to accompany any action-plan making pause. The design definitely enhances the experience, however is fairly commonplace and doesn’t achieve anything spectacular.
In a game so dynamic and vivid in its actual gameplay, it’s heart breaking that it falls so short in terms of narrative. With no dialogue or text, the player is given no indication of any wider context to their actions. While this doesn’t detract from the level of entertainment that the puzzles themselves provide, it’s disheartening to not know your character’s background, motivations, or end goals.
The only measly sliver of context afforded to the player is in the opening sequence where you run from the house that you grew up in and take refuge in Tesla tower. It takes some Googling to work out what you’re actually doing there. Despite some historical context presented in the form of an ominous theater you wander into, there is a line between subtle narrative and lack of narrative, and Teslagrad is definitely on the wrong side of it.
The map of Tesla tower is created in a way that attempts to reward curiosity and exploration. Going the extra mile to discover collectible items will leave you a little disheartened, however. With no function or storage of these collectible items, it leaves little reason to put yourself through the impenetrable tasks they ask of you. No way of viewing your collected items, or even knowing if you have them all or how many there are left is also extremely frustrating to completionists.
With compelling gameplay mechanics and a refreshing lack of stagnation in these mechanics, Teslagrad definitely comes top of the class in terms of what the player is asked to achieve. And in such a charming atmosphere inspired by the mechanical backdrops and the whirrs and clunks of motors, it’s a delight to achieve. It’s just such a shame that you don’t really know what you’re achieving or why.
Use the magnetic force on the go in this addictive Vita port of a PS4 classic
Gameplay - 10/10
Design - 7/10
Plot - 1/10
I like what I’m doing. I just wish I knew why I was doing it…