Teslagrad has interesting gameplay, but it will blow you away with its outstanding art style!
Teslagrad is an upcoming side-scrolling puzzle platformer with action elements, where magnetism and other electromagnetic powers are the key to the world's challenges, that is what the press release said at least. I contacted the devs and they were nice enough to give me a code for a preview build. Redeemed it on Desura and started playing it.
After you boot the game, the menu appears with the usual options like New Game, Load, Options etc. but what caught my attention was what was happening in the background, a man carrying a child in his arms was walking through the rain. As I clicked on New Game, the menu faded away and I saw the man reach a house. After that I saw that the clock on top of the house spinning really really fast and I could clearly see seasons pass, summer/fall/winter and I understood that years have passed. Then I saw some soldiers running towards the house and a little boy exiting from the back door. I took control of this little boy and I had to make my way towards the right of the screen. Platforming over houses, rooftops, destroyed bridges, ladders while dodging soldiers that were trying to catch me. After a bit of traversing, I found myself inside a tower and here's where the real fun (and pain) began.
In a room inside this tower I found a gauntlet, that gave me the power to mess with the magnetic field of different objects in the world. Red I'm guessing for positive and blue for negative. And I could change the polarity of different objects in the world using the left and right arrow keys. This whole mechanic is the base for solving the many puzzles of the game. Some of them were easy, for example in a puzzle I just had to switch the polarity of an object then change to the same polarity another object on top of the last one, this propeled me through the air, reaching the next checkpoint or level. But there were also some other puzzles that I found very difficult to solve. I remember one where I had to travel through, what it seemed like a vertical maze, while trying to dodge electrified boxes that insta-killed me. Now these boxes had the same size as the maze's corridors leaving you no room to jump or do something in their regard and they moved really quickly. Also I couldn't really see where these boxes were till it was already too late.
Many tries later, I understood that I needed to use the other ability my character got early in the game, the ability called Blink. It worked kinda like a teleport ability or like a dash, but the interesting part was that now you could travel through fences or gates unlocking new parts of the world or tower. So I used this ability to move through the maze and one time I was very close at "beating" the maze, but failed miserably. After many other tries, I finally passed the maze, but not using skill or anything (maybe I am just bad at this game). I somehow managed to glitch the little robots that caused the shift in polarity of the boxes, making them move and insta-kill me over and over again. So yeah, that part was really frustrating, but somehow it didn't made me quit the game or smash my keyboard or anything like that. I knew that it could be beaten, just was really difficult to do so.
And that is what I really liked about this game or better, about the small portion that I played. It was quite challenging and it doesn't really hold your hand. The game doesn't even have a proper text tutorial or hint system to explain what is what and how things are done. But still it teaches you the mechanics using an interesting style that I haven't really seen previously in videogames and I'll talk more about it below. So think of Teslagrad as a puzzle platformer with Dead Souls difficulty curve. Sure it has its frustrating moments, but you know that you will eventually "beat" it... one day.
It is also said that boss fights will be present in the game, "old school boss fights" say the devs. There was a boss fight in the demo I played and it was cool enough. You had to change the polarity of some boxes that the boss would suck and hurting himself in the process. I liked it, but somehow it didn't felt right or properly developed.
But the gameplay and the puzzles are not the main reason why I liked Teslagrad a lot. The devs like to call it "voiceless storytelling", but I like to call it a "super f*cking cool and a fantastic new, never seen before way of storytelling". As soon as you start the game, where you see the man and the little child, the time passing etc. there is no voice over or text to explain what is happening. All of these things, that other games usually fill the screen with boring text that no one reads, are "told" using only the outstanding and beautiful hand drawn art style, some clever visual cues and the incredible use of sound effects. And the result of all of these elements combined is just outstanding. The art style is (sorry for my language) f*cking beautiful! It is probably one of the best I have ever seen in a videogame, it is so beautiful that you can literally take a screenshot of the game, print it out, frame it and hang it over a wall (hmm I just might ask the devs to send me something like this :) ). I cannot praise enough how beautiful Teslagrad looks, the guys who did the art are incredible artists and they have earned my eternal respect. The animations are gorgeous perfectly smooth, the environments are stunning and the lighting effects... OMG!
Also brilliant is the use of sound effects. The sound of a water drop or the echo of your footsteps in a big hallway etc. these small touches create the perfect atmosphere that truly immerse you into this beautifully crafted universe. Now I can't talk much about the game story since the demo I played was pre-alpha, so not the full experience, but I can quote the press release that goes like this "You play as a young boy who suddenly finds himself embroiled in a long-forgotten conspiracy, involving the despotic king who has ruled the nation with an iron fist for several years. Jump into an outstanding adventure told through voiceless storytelling. Armed with ancient Teslamancer technology and your own ingenuity and creativity, your path lies through the decrepit Tesla Tower and beyond". And you can see some details, as I said above, and you can get an idea of what has or is happening in the background, in small posters, big pictures or statues etc.
The "tutorial" works in a similar way. You don't get a text saying "Change the polarity by using..." or "Blink allows to go through gates". Nope there is none of that here. The tutorial is embedded in the backgrounds as lets call it "graffiti style" where you see this other character that is wearing this cool hood using the ability or doing something and the button prompt below, but that is done in a very subtle way that is not in any way invasive and maybe sometimes you will not understand or see that it's there.
Now I have played the game since two months ago and many things may have changed by now, but I have some minor problems with Teslagrad that I feel need to be out there. First, it definitely needs a map. Once I was near the end of the demo, I have unlocked many levels or rooms of the tower and it was difficult to see or remember which of them I explored and which not. Also since there's a slight metroidvania style in the game, I didn't know what to do in some areas or even if I could access that particular area at that time, so some visual cues would have been nice. I encountered some glitches and a few bugs here and there on my playthrough, but those I think are hammered down or will be by the time the game is released. And for last, I wish they make the puzzles just a little bit easy to solve, embed a clue in the background or something like that cause right now some are pretty tough and that might alienate some people.
To sum it up, I cannot wait for Teslagrad to release. The artstyle is just phenomenal, the gameplay was really fun and the story seems to be very intriguing. You too should keep an eye for it. It is coming out this Fall for Windows, Mac, Linux, WiiU, PS3 (suck it Xbox :D).