Monday, December 4, 2017

Review: Teslagrad


Games with no dialogue or explicit instructions to guide the player can be tricky. If you don’t nudge the average player enough they may get frustrated and quit, if you are too heavy-handed it will rob them of the feeling of accomplishment and discovery. Managing to carefully split the middle in this tug of war comes the action platformer/puzzler Teslagrad, where from the start you’ll have very little idea of what’s going on aside from a need to keep moving. Once you’re able to evade your would-be captors and make your way into what appears to be an abandoned castle you’ll begin your adventure of discovery to uncover the secrets of the game’s story and your character’s part to play in it.


The game employs a clever system of progression through its runtime. For every discovery you make you’ll find new abilities that you’ll need to master fully to be a success. As you come upon them you’ll often find a few pictures on the wall that will give you a very basic understanding of what you should now be able to do and then, in general, from that point on you’ll be left to figure out how to effectively apply those abilities in different situations. The rate that you need to do this is generally pretty gentle and I don’t recall any point where it felt unfair. You’ll just see a gap you need to cover or some sort of environmental trap you need to get by and then take the time to work out how you can use your skills to help you conquer it. This, without a doubt, often involves an element of trial and error (and often death) but since your progress is stored every time you move into a new room this rarely feels at all punishing.

What feels great is that once you’ve gotten to a certain point in the game you feel pretty well left to your own devices, choosing which path to take. While it is a relatively small detail the lack of feeling like you’re on rails enhances the sense of discovery and adventure and I appreciated this touch even if ultimately I may have had less choice than I thought. Throughout for each segment of the game I would have to take in the challenges presented to me, poke around and try a few things, and then work to execute everything successfully to progress. Once I got to the next room I was then set and would take on the next set of challenges. This also made it a great game to pick up and play for a little bit, put down, and then return to later, making it perfect for the Switch in handheld mode while on the go.


While no particular puzzle stands out as particularly unfair it is possible that some gamers could struggle a bit with the execution in some situations. Timing can be vital and you’ll pretty commonly be required to chain a few different skills and ideas in a row, with an eye for accuracy. While some of these situations could be aggravating I also don’t consider them in any way unfair. That said, depending on people’s skill levels it could be there are obstacles some will struggle with more than others. Perhaps people who enjoy a very clearly defined story could also find the more implied but never necessarily set in stone nature of the narrative to be a downside but I enjoyed the somewhat creative way elements of the past are peppered on the walls and in events along your journey.

I attempted to keep everything roughly as vague as possible in the review because I think one of the greatest things for me about the game was coming into it having know very little. This allowed the game to feel a little more magical to me rather than as a chain of expected events and tools to be found. If you enjoy creative and sometimes challenging platforming with a bits of puzzles thrown in Teslagrad is a game to be savored, and stands out as something a bit special among its peers.


Score: 9

Pros:
  • The lack of explicit direction makes the process of growth far more rewarding
  • A wide variety of creative and challenging platforming challenges with some puzzle elements thrown in on a regular basis
  • The art design and music are both impeccable

Cons:
  • The lack of a strictly-defined path in places could potentially confuse some people
  • Some of the challenges may push the limits of some people in terms of execution and precision


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