Every now and then a game comes along that immediately demands your attention. The title’s opening moments could include things such as: a compelling narrative, a striking cinematic, or a beautiful soundtrack. I’m not sure why, but I’m a sucker for games opening with a thunderstorm. Whether it’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past or Super Metroid, those moments early in the game really stick out to me, and with Teslagrad I feel the same connection. From the hauntingly captivating title screen music to the unbelievable, almost old school animation techniques, I was instantly hooked.
The game begins with a man (your father?) carrying a baby (you) into an orphanage house and then he immediately ventures out. The clock outside the building begins to move ahead faster and faster until you see the seasons changing and the years passing. You’re a young boy now and danger has emerged in the form of big hulking guys in red shirts chasing after you in a torrential thunderstorm. There’s no narration here, and no tutorial whatsoever. You just instinctively run to the right, just as Super Mario Bros. has taught you so many years ago. You’ll have no defense other than to run and jump from rooftop to rooftop while avoiding pitfalls and hazards. If you fall to your death or manage to get caught by one of the redcoats, you’ll start back a little bit and continue on your quest. Don’t worry about running out of lives – you have an unlimited number.
Now, Teslagrad isn’t an endless runner, so don’t worry – you won’t be running and jumping as fast as you can throughout the entire game. In fact, the very next area turns into something completely different. You stumble across a special glove hidden away in a tower. This Magnet Glove gives you the power to change the polarity of special platforms and blocks. Some glow red and some blue, and you can change the color of them to make them attract or repel. Intentional or not, if you own the Neon Switch, the colors match the left and right Joy-Cons – meaning if you press the L trigger you punch blue and the R trigger you punch red. That’s a pretty awesome coincidence. Immediately the game takes on a more puzzle-like nature and I’d be lying if I wasn’t reminded a little bit of the Portal games. That’s because you’ll come across some real brainteasers along the way that will require some serious thought to solve.
As you continue on in your journey you’ll find new items that will add new powers to your arsenal. If you look closely at some background images they will give clues as to how to utilize the new powers. For example, the second item you get is a super powered pair of footwear called the Blink Boots, which allows you to use electricity to warp a short distance. You can actually teleport through certain objects, like wooden barricades, jail cells, and lightning walls. This new power also enables you to extend your jump in midair by dashing forward a few more feet to reach that ledge that would normally be just out of reach.
One of the amazing aspects of Teslagrad is that it creates a world that’s so unique that you just want to explore every room and discover every secret. The game exudes that special solitary experience feeling that games like Metroid convey so well. There’s no one telling you what to do or how to use your new powers. It’s all up to you to read the situations yourself and to figure out through trial and error what works and what doesn’t. In many ways this harkens back to the way classic NES games were created, and after years of tutorials and waypoints showing you the exact spot to visit next, it feels rather refreshing.
There are enemy creatures throughout your adventure as well. These black monstrosities are scary at first, especially since you initially have no way of destroying them and they offer up one hit kills. That’s right, you don’t have an energy bar, which makes fighting the bosses even more challenging. Luckily you start in the same area you died in, so it’s never a huge task to retrace your steps. The game seems to spike in difficulty at the boss encounters, so expect to die a lot until you learn the ins and outs of the boss attacks.
As mentioned earlier, the graphics in Teslagrad are simply gorgeous. I love the hand drawn look of the game, and the animation is top notch. The game plays a lot with darkness, showing off really dark backgrounds and then lighting up the room with glowing objects, which looks really great on the TV or the handheld screen. The game’s audio is fine, but other than the title screen’s amazing music, there wasn’t much in the way of memorable music. Still, the sound effects work well, especially when you change polarity on the metal objects and they come crashing together.
Teslagrad is a fun, if not challenging platform game with tons of puzzle solving thrown in. It plays much slower than many other side-scrollers, with each room requiring thought and skill to pass through. It’s a perfect game to play for 20 minutes and then take a break and come back to later, especially if you get stumped on a more difficult puzzle or boss. The game’s unique visuals, fun gameplay, and immersive atmosphere all add up to a very fun time. Some may become frustrated by the spikes in difficulty or the lack of a map and whatnot, but most should find the game to be delightful.
Teslagrad was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.