Teslagrad

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Rain Games for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, PS3, Vita, Wii U, and Switch, originally released in 2013.
Teslagrad is a puzzle-based adventure platformer that centers on the use of electricity and magnetism, which is perhaps a bit unsurprising given the inspiration from Nikola Tesla, a pioneer in the fields of electricity and magnetism, as well as several other areas of engineering. The game focuses not on Tesla himself, but rather on a little boy – who bears some resemblance to the inventor – who must use the power of Teslamancy to safely traverse the mysterious and dangerous structure known as Tesla Tower.

The game begins with a father – who also bears a resemblance to Tesla – walking along the road with a child in his arms and some kind of device strapped to his back. When he reaches his home, he nervously hands the child off to his wife and continues on. A year passes, and a group of red-clad men, vaguely Russian in appearance, show up at the house. Taking the part of the little boy, you exit from the rear of the house with your mother urging you onward, away from the men who are attempting to capture you.

As you run through the city, rain falls, washing over the buildings and sidewalks as somber music plays. You have no offensive abilities, so you stick to the rooftops to avoid detection, and run away when you are eventually spotted. The world is dank and grim, with streetlights glowing near European-style homes, power lines strung between them, and a giant tower looming in the background with what appears to be a fire burning between the houses and the tower. Here and there are propaganda posters espousing the virtues of the red-clad military force.


Eventually, the boy reaches some kind of cathedral, and from there makes his way into Tesla Tower. The mechanics are introduced through a set of tutorials with pictograms on the wall. There is no writing in the game, nor dialogue of any sort; rather, information is conveyed by the design, or more explicitly through pictograms, and the story is told through the use of detailed hand-drawn characters and animations.


There are also several points within the tower where the action stops and puppet plays show the history of the world and its two opposing factions, one red and one blue. The plays reveal the details of how the groups split apart, and how the red king went on to use the power of Teslamancy to expand the kingdom (appearing on a map that looks very much like Russia invading Europe), while the blue faction went off to construct Tesla Tower.


In the early going, the boy is taught of two forms of magnetism, one of which is represented by a blue glow, and the other red. Touching spider-like blue or red robots temporarily imbues the boy’s body with that variety of magnetism. Turning blue repels you from other blue objects but attracts you toward red, and vice versa. You learn to enter blue pillars of light, touch a blue robot, and then levitate upwards.


Soon you acquire an artifact in the form of a glove that gives you the ability to punch certain metallic objects to imbue them with blue or red energy, thus building the basic puzzle structure of the game world. As before, like-colored objects are repelled from one another, but attracted toward objects of the opposing color. This is used in a variety of ways, from creating doors that must be opened by repelling blocks from one another, to creating hovering platforms to reach higher areas or send yourself flying through the environment, and even to controlling objects at a distance by altering the magnetic conditions around them.


Puzzles are cleverly designed and escalate steadily in difficulty as you learn to use your skills and acquire Tesla-powered artifacts. However, even as you gain new abilities, these are almost never used for offensive purposes. Outside of bosses, it’s rare that you will need to destroy any sort of enemy, as most challenges center on solving environmental puzzles.


The boy has a 1.5x inertia-driven jump that’s a bit floaty; however, precision platforming is rarely required, so this has only a minor impact on gameplay. He can also grab ledges and climb them, drop down, or jump away. Jumping away actually causes him to push away from walls and fall, which is more realistic in terms of physics, even if it goes against the gaming tradition of letting players jump up and away from vertical surfaces.


With the exception of certain black creatures, most of the world’s inhabitants are docile and will move about of their own accord, often to be used in the pursuit of solving puzzles. For instance, slug-like enemies can be punched with your glove to imbue them with the corresponding color, causing them to attract or repel other objects in the environment, potentially pushing a block out of the way to let you pass, or even letting you take advantage of their magnetism to attract yourself toward them.


The aforementioned spider-like creatures are used in a number of scenarios to trigger blocks outside of your direct control. However, you must often guide them to their destination by activating switches. In fact, these robotic creatures can actually be used to power inactive robots in the environment to help you solve additional puzzles. By causing a spider-bot to drop into the head of a robot, it will come to life and begin walking until it reaches a solid object, at which point it will lean over, and the spider-bot will crawl out and continue on its journey. By helping it along, you can take advantage of the moving robot to pass dangerous obstacles, such as lava or electricity, which would otherwise kill you instantly, and spider-bots can also activate blocks in the same way as your glove.


Should you fail to solve a puzzle, leaving the room and returning will reset it, as will getting yourself killed. Checkpoints are quite frequent, appearing at the entrance of every room, and sometimes between difficult sequences within rooms.


Eventually, you acquire a pair of boots that grants you the ability to teleport over short distances to the left or right. While you can’t move through solid objects, you can pass safely through vertical lines of electricity as well as iron bars. Soon after acquiring the boots, you’ll need to use them to purposely teleport yourself in and out of cages to avoid dangerous black creatures, a talent that is later used to take down a boss in the form of a mechanical bird. There is a cooldown period between uses, preventing players from dashing madly through the sky, but also setting up more challenging scenarios where you may need to teleport, perform another action, and then teleport again.


With these new boots, platforming becomes more important as a means of progression, and the game further builds challenges upon your magnetism and teleportation abilities. For instance, you may need to magnetize yourself, run and jump from a ledge, attract upward toward a row of colored blocks, then drop down and teleport through a line of electricity, all in a single sequence. You will also frequently need to teleport over gaps and directly into a ledge so that you can grab it and climb up.


Platforming becomes even more challenging once you find the cloak, which lets you manually magnetize yourself to either of the polarities. This allows for situations where you can use a magnet assisted jump to reach a higher area by pressing the JUMP button while simultaneously activating your cloak to repel yourself from the same-colored object below you. You will also encounter scenarios where you must finesse the use of the cloak to hover, move up or down, trigger remote objects, or even switch rapidly between polarities to move quickly through series of alternating colored blocks. Of course, with this newfound ability, you must be on the lookout for the previously helpful spiders and glowing flowers that you once used to magnetize yourself, as these can now force you to alter your polarity. One boss encounter focuses on maintaining specific polarities while repelling colored projectiles and avoiding spiders.


The game is also nonlinear in structure, allowing you to freely visit previous areas and apply your newfound abilities, although backtracking is not strictly necessary as a means of progression until late in the game. A central shaft links most of the structure, making it very easy to drop down into a previous area and then quickly return to where you left off, and a metroidvania-style map shows outlines of the rooms immediately surrounding your position. In addition, the player encounters scrolls tucked away at various places in the environment, most of which require mastery of your skills to reach. These scrolls are generally accessible on their first pass, but some may only be acquired by returning to the area with a new ability. Like the puppet plays, these cards provide additional details about the history of the world and its inhabitants, but they have another use as well.


The game features five bosses, each of which centers on the use of the powers that you have acquired to that point. Battles tend to be lengthy action-based affairs, and bosses must generally be defeated in some sort of indirect way, as most of your abilities are not explicitly offense-based. Many of these encounters require a bit of trial and error, as enemy behaviors often change during the course of battle, and getting killed restarts the fight from the beginning. While there is certainly a puzzle element to defeating each boss, these encounters are quite different from the rest of the experience where you are otherwise free to take your time and consider the environment, and then make a strategic move with a close checkpoint to save you from any major failings. Boss battles require fast reflexes in addition to a solid understanding of the puzzle mechanics, with very little room for failure.



2D CRED
Teslagrad was developed by Rain Games, a developer based in Bergen, Norway. The studio was founded in 2010 by a small group of artists and programmers, who originally began work on an entirely different game, known as Minute Mayhem, a casual multiplayer title. In 2011, the studio received funding for the development of Teslagrad, and switched over to its development full time. Both games are set in the same universe, in a world known as Chroma. The studio also initiated the Norwegian Game Makers Guild, a network of game developers in the area, including Vostopia, Turbotape Games, Mentalfish and Badgerpunch.

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