Teslagrad is a puzzle platformer game with a focus on electromagnetic physics. The game is entirely 2D in its gameplay, using some beautifully drawn sprites rather than going for any retro visual approach. For a quick reference, the game plays similarly to Braid, the puzzle solving is like what you might expect from Braid or Portal, and there’s a bit of an exploration element similar to Super Metroid. (Those comparisons don’t do the game justice, so remember that’s just a quick comparison as we continue!)
The game was originally released in 2013 and has seen a number of rereleases on various systems, the Switch being one of the newest of those. Does the game still hold up well for being four years old? Let’s take a closer look and find out!
While there are some moments of action in the game, the biggest draw is the puzzle solving. The rooms throughout the game are set up with obstacles to get past and objects with magnetic forces to interact with, and it’s up to you to figure out how to use them to proceed.
As the game gets going beyond the intro, you are given the ability to magnetize objects by hitting them while standing next to them. Magnetism in this game is represented by blue and red forces, and magnetizing an object causes it to glow that color. Like north and south magnetic forces, blue and red attract each other, while blue repels blue and red repels red. You’re not limited to control over one color or the other—anything you can do with one, you can do with the other.
You can change the charge of a lot of metal objects to make them react to each other or static forces, and that’s where the meat of the puzzles comes from. There are some objects that can’t be charged or can’t have their charge changed by you, and these are usually marked with an “X” to let you know. There are also ways you can become magnetically charged, allowing you to make massive jumps you couldn’t otherwise or cling to ceilings to cross hazardous areas.
The second ability you receive is a “Blink” ability, which causes you to instantly warp forward a short distance. This is a lot of fun to use, and it lets you pass through some walls and make long jumps you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. The game’s puzzles probably could have been structured entirely around these two abilities, and it would still be great. There are a few more abilities you receive, but there’s no need to spoil them here. Needless to say, the puzzles are fun to figure out with the tools you’re given.
Teslagrad is a game with no dialogue. The story is told entirely through its visuals, backgrounds, the actions you take, some pictures you find, and a few cutscenes involving puppets on a stage. Given this limitation, the story is told very well, and it makes sense how the main villain ended up being the main villain. Since solving puzzles is one of the high points of the game, why not make the story one that you need to figure your way through to understand? This was a good choice!
The majority of the game takes place in Tesla Tower, where you explore to find the path forward. There isn’t exactly any open-world exploration. There’s definitely a single path forward for you to find, but it isn’t straightforward and it takes some exploring to find. This sort of linear path is actually pretty standard for exploration games, so this approach works fine.
As mentioned, each room is its own separate puzzle, challenging you to reach the other side to move forward. Touching any hazard or enemy will cause you to die, but checkpoints are plentiful (located in every room it seems). This keeps the tension pretty low since most threats stay in one place in the room and trying again is quick and painless.
The tower also has a number of scrolls hidden throughout it (though they also look like batteries). These are usually floating in plain sight, daring you to figure out how to reach them. Collecting them unlocks images on your pause screen which reveals the game’s backstory. The scrolls act as rewards for optional extra challenges, and it feels pretty rewarding when you successfully find your way to one. You will need 15 of the 36 scrolls to finish the game (with a different ending unlocked if you find them all), but you will have all your upgrades by the time you reach the point you need them to continue, which makes going back and finding more much easier.
The most tense action the game offers is through boss fights, roughly one for each ability you acquire and a final boss at the end. The bosses are designed with the level of challenge you might expect from a dedicated platformer game—they don’t make things easy just because most of the game is about puzzle solving.
This is actually the most troubling part of the game because of how its death mechanic works. You still die to any hit during a boss fight, and the checkpoint is always at the beginning of the room (i.e. the beginning of the fight). If there were more checkpoints (say, after attack phases) or you could take more than one hit, this aspect of the game would be a lot less frustrating. You might come for the puzzles, but you won’t reach the end unless you’ve got lightning reflexes for the bosses. (And because of the final boss, I have not reached the end.)
The other (somewhat) major issue I had with the game involves riding electromagnetic currents upward when you are magnetized. If you jump to start floating, you move upward very quickly until your charge goes away. If you simply walk into the current from the side or become charged after you jump, you float upward much more slowly, or sometimes you even slowly fall until your charge goes away. It’s a bit inconsistent and makes some of the puzzles involved trickier than they seem like they should be. This is pretty minor compared to my issue with boss fights though.
Is It For You?
You’ll enjoy Teslagrad if you enjoy solving puzzles, stories without dialogue, beautiful visuals, animations, and set pieces, or just playing with magnetism in general. The boss encounters prevent it from being a completely relaxed game since you will need tight reflexes just to finish. Because of the contrast of “relaxed puzzle solving” and “tense boss encounters,” the game ends up in a bit of an awkward spot in between. Still, the good points outweigh the bad, and if you’re okay with either not quite seeing the ending or banging your head against it until you get there, you’ll have a lot of fun during the middle section of the game.