There are no words in Teslagrad, save the title screen and closing credits, yet this puzzle-platformer from developer Rain Games tells a cohesive, flowing, and engaging story. That it manages to tell any kind of story without words is an achievement; Teslagrad‘s story is a complex one of treachery and greed, loss and hope, all conveyed through wordless puppet shows and still images. Remarkable.
Teslagrad is a game that is many things at the same time. It is a platform game that has puzzles, it’s a thoroughly modern game that’s steeped in nostalgia, and it’s a tight platform game played out in an open 2D world. Before you experience all this, though, you will remark upon one thing; Teslagrad is a truly beautiful game.
This puzzle-adventure’s narrative is delivered cleverly through puppet shows staged throughout the game, and still images recovered from nooks and corners of the tower setting. Your young protagonist is an orphan who must escape the red-clad men trying to capture him, evading their clutches using his powers of electromagnetism while exploring a steampunk world. The success of Teslagrad’s wordless narrative is thanks largely to the visual aesthetic of the game – hand drawn characters and atmospheric, evocative backdrops convey a sense of desperation, discomfort and unease, and brilliantly frame those moments of pure theatrical storytelling that come in the form of set piece puzzles and the aforementioned puppet shows.
The puzzle platformer is a classic genre that traces its roots back to the early cartridge era – and Teslagrad apes this perfectly, right down to an unforgiving level of difficulty. There’s no health bar or “finish-where-you left-off” mechanic to mollycoddle you here. One-hit-death and infrequent checkpoints are the order of the day – you need to approach this game in the right frame of mind or rage will occur. Of course, the frustration/reward balance in any puzzle needs to be right, and Tesla hits the sweet spot perfectly – the sense of achievement in solving a puzzle that initially stumped you is tangible.
Your protagonist carries no weapons, though is not entirely defenceless; throughout the story you’ll discover equipment to help you on your journey – a power glove, dash boots and a cape that allows you to manipulate the blocks using your electromagnetic powers.
The game is completely non linear, offering up a full world to explore and multiple pathways through the game.
Boss fights feature, but these are simply extensions of puzzles that aren’t too hard to overcome once you’ve worked out what you have to do. But in solving puzzles you will die. A lot. Solutions are a case of using your electromagnetic powers and, as with the best puzzle games, are blindingly obvious only when you discover them.
A slow, soulful soundtrack plays in the background throughout your adventure in the tower, imbuing the game with a sense of remorse and complementing the beautiful artistic style perfectly. Teslagrad is most certainly art in video game form, with hand drawn visuals that were clearly a labour of love for the artists involved. The more you study the backgrounds the more you will find hidden in them, sometimes hinting at surreal images that only add to the strange oppressiveness of the world.
The puzzles are broken up by some classic platform gameplay, particularly as you dodge and evade your would-be captors, but this can sometimes become repetitive and is probably the weakest element of what is a very strong package.Puzzles that are the bread and butter of Teslagrad. Early on, puzzles are fairly rudimentary as you get to grips with the mechanics of the game and don’t pose too much difficulty. Later on in the game, as you have more abilities at your disposal, they start to become more of a challenge.
Teslagrad is a fantastic game for those who like a slight retro feel, and who relish a challenge. Teslagrad punishes you for your mistakes again and again; this is a game that requires patience and perseverance. It’s not a game for everyone but for those who prefer platforms and puzzles over action and combat then this well could be the game for you. Any minor shortcomings in the game are quickly overshadowed by the sheer beauty on display and this, combined with its challenging nature, will be a game that could have you coming back for more.
Check out the trailer.
Teslagrad is available from the Xbox Store priced £11.99.
A beautiful adventure requiring patience and perseverance.
Teslagrad is a beautiful game that clearly makes the case for videogames as art, with its hand-drawn aesthetic and wordlessly communicated narrative. Puzzle-platform fans who are not afraid of a bit of hard work should definitely grab a copy without hesitation.
Despite its obvious charm and accessibility this is a game that requires a degree of patience and perseverance, so those looking for a quick action fix might be better to look elsewhere.