Teslagrad PS Vita Review
Originally released on the PC in 2013, then the Wii U in 2014; Teslagrad eventually made its assault on the remaining consoles during this calendar year. It was specifically in its release as a PS+ “freebie” that the game piqued my interest, arriving in a stellar month of games accompanied by the excellent Grow Home to boot. Amongst the titles also released that month it stood out to be purely because of its simple, yet effective hand-drawn art style carefully created within the Unity engine.
The PS Vita port of this game holds true to the visuals present on every other incarnation of the game to date, with seemingly no concessions made as a result of a port from PC/PS4 to the handheld. Everything looks lovely, sharp, and visually arresting. Rain Games have chosen a delightfully wonderful visual style here, one that is almost timeless. There are (very minor) drawbacks however, some longer loading times than I noticed on the PS4 version and a slightly muddier look to affairs, though this can be attributed to the half-resolution of the PS Vita screen. If this game had come out closer to the PC release it would have been able to garner more adulation, however following the release of many games in a seemingly similar style since 2013 it may well be overlooked… and that is a shame. This game can be quite fun at times. It is not an especially long game clocking in around 5-7 hours, but has collectables in the form of scrolls which can entice the completionist within you to go back time and time again; this can further extend the length up to 20 hours.
A 2D steampunk puzzle-platformer with backtracking elements synonymous with games like Metroid and Castlevania, Teslagrad can be broken down to its most base terms to be an interactive experience fundamentally based on the measured use of positive and negative magnetic energy in order to traverse obstacles, solve puzzles and defeat bosses. A novel take on the theories of the long-gone Nikola Tesla. The naming of this game is distinctly eponymous of the work of the great inventor, and his influence is ever present throughout the game.
Teslagrad begins with one of many short animated sequences, however this one shows the passage of time of an abandoned orphan boy over the years, and the changing climate of Elektra, the city in which he grows. Taking control of the boy at a time of political instability, you are first tasked with escaping from weapons wielding guards, running away from the unknowing threat they present to your safety. It is by running away you begin to find out more about Elektra, how the situation became so perilous, the devious king who wields an iron-fist over the kingdom, whilst unearthing multiple abilities in the meantime. It transpires that you are infact one of a long-line of teslamancers and you are the last of their kind. What is a teslamancer you ask? Teslamancers are members of the family of Tesla, who wear certain items of clothing that distinguishes them from most people, granting them abilities and further control over this.
These story elements are effectively done in the form of music hall sequences, almost silent save for the continuous soundtrack that underscores the game throughout. Each sequence is presented in the form of 2D almost cardboard cut-out-like puppet-shows, these provide an insight into the world you inhabit and how the despot king gained such control. The story within Teslagrad is there should you wish to pause and reflect, but that choice is yours and it does not force itself to the fore. Instead allowing you to choose your level of involvement or interest in how things came to be. This is a novel approach and a welcome one, by being subtle rather than overtly forceful this stylistic manner of delivery encourages you to play through the game multiple times (should you wish) in order to unlock, unearth and investigate all the hidden intricacies within.
Looks aside this all means naught if the game is not worth its weight in electro-conductive materials, surely? In this genre of games, it is a prerequisite that controls are tight and the gameplay matches not only the visuals, but its contemporaries. For the most part, Teslagrad controls exceedingly well. The button-mapping on the PS Vita is perfect, easy to gain a grasp on and works without having to check what buttons you’re pressing. Though I admit I sometimes did mix up the positive and negative charges on the shoulder buttons, that’s probably an age thing.
Where Teslagrad falls down for me is the insistence on pixel-perfect jumps, frequent backtracking, no-way-pointing and annoying check-pointing. I haven’t seen many reviews or opinions on the game’s jumping mechanics, and this may be me. The mechanics are absolutely fine, a well-paced jump without the floaty awfulness of Little Big Planet but there is increasing frustration as you fail to make a seemingly feasible jump time and time again. The puzzles can also seem tedious and drawn out – it’s difficult to create interesting and thoughtful puzzles that everyone can enjoy, but to create puzzles that infuriate more often than they please reduces the game’s main allure and that’s a shame. It would also be nice to feature more subtle aspects of way-pointing; some of you reading may decry the difficulty levels of many games nowadays and call me an idiot. Simply put, I want to ‘experience’ and enjoy what I am playing, I am more than willing to put up with frustration (I played Fez and Super Meat Boy and love those immensely), this doesn’t have to be to the detriment of my enjoyment of what I am playing and more often than I would have liked I found myself ‘taking a break’. I have the same issues with check-pointing, which often requires to leave a room only to re-enter to ‘reset’ the scene, the same issues apply when you die and it’s frustrating going through the rigmarole of setting up a sequence of events or timing a jump after a frustrating trek to get into position. Don’t get me wrong I have enjoyed my time with Teslagrad and I will continue playing this game long after review because I like it so much. However certain aspects can certainly grate and take away from a predominantly fun game. Platform games that get these aspects right (Metroid, Castlevania etc.) allow for a certain element of correction without having to respawn and I’d like to see more opportunities for that to occur.
The audio for Teslagrad is fairly moody, with an almost classical tone to it. It’s perfectly fitting for the mood and more than once I have found myself listening to the soundtrack alone whilst browsing online generally. It’s a testament to the strength of a game’s soundtrack that you don’t immediately put the audio on mute (which is what I do on most Vita games), instead allowing yourself to be lulled by the lovingly crafted music as you make your way through the game. It helps having such soothing music as you curse time after time when a seemingly simple jump is failed once again.
In summary Teslagrad is a twee, enjoyable little game, one that can be played time-and-time again. Providing you can put your frustrations aside for a moment, and this game will frustrate you… immensely. But throughout all the annoying gameplay elements, this game still has an alluring quality about it. It reminds me of a game I reviewed a few years ago now, Pid, similarly frustrating yet enjoyable. However the enjoyment was tainted by its unnecessary difficulty, I understand the need for difficulty in games in this genre, but the difficulty should be crafted as a means of testing your endurance at skill, not your temper. At times it was perhaps best I put down the Vita and left the game for a while, for everybody’s sake.
This would have been a grand release alongside the launch PS4 when there was a dearth of releases and could have come out anytime in the last 18 months for the PS Vita which has needed titles of its own. As such it could be a game that’s overlooked, and that’s a shame. Teslagrad is a fine game, wonderfully presented and an enthralling adventure. If you’re a fan of this genre of games and want something to pick up and play on the go, this comes recommended. I just hope you have a high tolerance for difficult and sometimes unfairly frustrating puzzle-platformers. Personally for me, it is a game that I have possibly unfairly criticised, like a loved-one you are always more critical, aren’t you? Overall a highly recommended purchase.