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    Teslagrad: The opposite of love is hate

    We’re writing This review rather delicately as we nurse our poor strained brain back to health. Teslagrad is a sneaky beast of a puzzle-platformer. Much like Braid, only requiring considerably more technical skill, Teslagrad seems delightfully whimsical, then proceeds to give you the kind of rage-based frustration you thought could only come from seeing a friend beat your epic high score by a couple of points. With an inventive puzzle system involving reactive blocks, little Jonny Anonymous (you’re not given a name) builds up a little arsenal of tech goodies to navigate his way through the levels. It’s a Metroidvania game through and through, then, with areas previously blocked off and seemingly impossible to get to becoming open to you as you collect more items that can help you around. It’s a great system,  plus there’s a great sense of achievement as it gets much easier to travel around as you get better at platforming, not to mention the stuff you eventually kit yourself out with.


    And that stuff is cool. Boots that teleport you short distances, gloves for punching blocks into the colour of your choice (as long as you choose red or blue) to get them to react with other blocks. It doesn't all quite fit together seamlessly, there’s a gun that can’t be used when jumping, which just feels wrong, and the boots gave us some trouble with not reacting quick enough in conjunction with other movement, but it’s still a lot of fun. That said, it does ramp up the difficulty level pretty darn quickly.

    There’s a clear point between the second and third bosses where Teslagrad looks over at Super Meat Boy and gets a bit of an inappropriate crush. There are a couple of bastard hard levels that require a ridiculous amount of trying, again, again and again, and while checkpointing is for the most part excellently done, the occasional segment will have you swearing nonsensically at the screen, the game, your controller, the cat... You can, of course, cheat and use a guide, but like Dark Souls (yes, we’re making that comparison), that really defeats the point of something like this, and robs you of the main source of enjoyment to be had here: getting through a tricky puzzle. In the latter half of the game, that joy is sadly all too fleeting before you’re thrown the next one, and in most cases you’ll have figured out what to do long before your hands are capable of doing it.

    You will find, therefore, that every so often you’ll spend a lot of time doing the same  obvious start to the puzzle repeatedly, before encountering something new and accidentally electrocuting little Jonny to death. The little Teslamancer doesn’t have any lives or health potions or much of a sense of self-preservation, so when you get him killed (and you will, a lot) it’s back to the checkpoint immediately for you. In a lot of games, that’s no bad thing we welcome difficulty but when you’re given little in the way of instruction beyond ‘USE R2/L2 TO GO COLOURS AND FLY’, having to redo the boring bits of a puzzle because you needed to experiment with how your new hood works is just annoying.

    A proper physics tutorial would have been welcome, and would have lessened our frustrations immensely. But then, in a way, that’s also part of the charm of Teslagrad. You’re thrown in immediately. No fuss, just gameplay; the story unfolds as you navigate the world. The execution needs tweaking, but the intent is spot on.

    So Teslagrad is frustrating. For all that it requires a good high level of platforming skill to complete, some parts of it are just dull. Hearing the same boss music start over and over again as you run through the tedious bits you already know how to do like clockwork before it throws something you have to react to impossibly quickly is brain-achingly annoying. And while most boss fights don’t last very long, they’re unforgiving due to the one-hit KO thing. For the most part, its a lot of old-school fun, but due to the slightest of dodgy controls, things can get tedious as you get stuck in one place. It doesn’t happen very often, but pixel-perfect platforming is where the bar needs to be for these sorts of games; sticky/floaty controls or equipment with a seemingly wavering cooldown time makes it just so frustrating. One boss fight in particular requires heavy use of the boots, and sometimes you’ll be jabbing at the buttons while nothing happens. For the majority of the time, Teslagrad runs as smooth as you like, and these little issues are only magnified because of the nature of the game.

    But, for all that it’s infuriating at points (if you play sans-guide, you’ll know exactly which bits we mean), it’s still an addictive experience, though not in the way it intended. It’s certainly enjoyable to platform around this very beautiful world, but the artistic style and lovely music become nothing but distractions to the pinpoint precision you’ll need to achieve to get through a tricky puzzle, and after failing twenty times in a row, you’ll be damned if you’re letting it beat you. Towards the end of the game, there’s a kind of grim satisfaction that comes with getting to the next checkpoint, but it’s nowhere near as enjoyable a jaunt as Fez, or Braid. There is nothing but the puzzle. The puzzle is all. And that’s how you’ll break your brain. It’s your own bloody fault if you let it get to you, but it will.

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