Game review: Teslagrad for PS Vita

Hoo boy, this fuckin’ game…there’s a part of me that wants to say something pragmatic and objective, like “Teslagrad is not a bad game, just a bad game for me.” But that’s because I absolutely hated playing it from start to finish. I want to be objective and pragmatic because the graphics are so pretty and the story is told without dialogue. That’s a nifty trick in an age when most games want to spend five minutes in intro cut scenes before letting you play. But the game DEMANDS perfection with every single puzzle. I remember reading early reviews that said, “This isn’t very challenging,” and now I want to scream at those reviewers, “As compared to what? Demon Souls?!”

So, the game starts off with an older man taking a baby to a house before time passes forward, and then an invading army forces the grown child to escape into a tower designed by the electrical equivalent of Rube Goldberg. This is the point at which I have to ask, “Does anyone ever build a tower that will kill them for failing to navigate the trip to their office?” FUUUUCK NOOOO THEY DON’T! The argument can’t even be made that this tower was built to defend some mystical treasure from distant enemies, because as the story plays out, it’s clear the “electromancers” were wiped out by their own allies. As it is, the first item, the polarity gloves, are right inside the tower. That’s some super duper security, mang.

AND YET, this ancient tower also contains automated puppet shows covering the history of these two factions. I’m trying to picture who had time to build that, and WHY they fucking built it. Like, “AAAAAH, OUR ALLIES HAVE BETRAYED US AND THE TOWER BURNS! WE MUST SET UP A SERIES OF ELABORATE PUPPET THEATERS DETAILING OUR HISTORY IN CASE SOMEONE ELSE COMES ALONG AND DOESN’T DIE IN OUR HUNDRED BOOBY TRAPS OF HOT ELECTRICAL DEATH!

It can’t be the enemy who set all of this shit up because they wouldn’t have told the puppet show story casting themselves in such an unfavorable light. As it is, one of the bosses was supposedly a helper automaton made by the “electromancers” (Because calling them electrical engineers wouldn’t have be “magical” I guess?) So these super geniuses left the means to ascend the tower available to anyone, but none of this army of dudes could enter before, UNTIL one little boy did. Yuh-huh. So how is it that one of the bosses you meet high up in the tower is a decrepit old man who has none of these tools, but made the climb just fine without them? Maybe after building a puppet show, the geniuses also left a back entrance open that just had a plain old, perfectly safe elevator? I know, I’m overthinking this story, and it’s just a stupid premise meant to facilitate some deadly puzzles. But it’s really, REALLY stupid premise.

This tower demands such perfection to get anywhere, even before you get the dash boots and the cloak that lets you radiate magnetic polarities, that I have to ask how anyone ever survived their commute to work. But once you get those boots and the cloak, the game becomes a rat bastard BECAUSE doing the same thing over and over does not yield the same results. It’s possible to jump and use one polarity on the cloak from the same spot a dozen times and be shot off at half a dozen angles. So it doesn’t feel like precision platforming to me. It feels like blind fucking luck to get where I needed to be.

It doesn’t help that to get the good ending requires collecting 36 scrolls, and not a single one of these scrolls isn’t a pain in the thumbs to collect. Each time I finally got one, I would say something like “And fuck you, you son of a bitch.” I didn’t mean that for my character, but for whatever bastard thought this would be fun. That’s my biggest sticking point playing this, that I NEVER considered any of it fun. It’s all just a painful slog trying my patience. (And my husband’s who gets tired of my constant growling.)

So to me, it doesn’t really matter that the game is pretty. ANYBODY can do pretty these days. They can do it in 3D, in 2D with hand painted sprites, with pixels in 8 or 16 bit variations, or with voxels. Pretty is easy. FUN, that’s what a whole bunch of these games tend do gloss over in favor of being insanely difficult.

Let me give you an example. Near the end of the game, the character picks up a rod that can shoot lightning. They go into a fight with the final boss, but they’re not allowed to just shoot the fucker. NO! That would be cathartic after all the bullshit this game has thrown at the player. Instead, one must wait through a pattern of attacks where there is nothing to do but dodge for almost a full minute. Then, and only then, is the character allowed to shoot the boss. Once, in the ass. And then the pattern has to be repeated again, and again, and again. What the ever lovin’ fuck is wrong with the people who made this game?

I am struggling to find anything nice to say, and after wracking my brain, all I can come up with is that at least I could change the control layout to better suit my needs. That’s good because I could put the jump and dash where they were more conformable and invert the polarity of the gloves.

But, while that was a point in the favor of the controls, I have to take it away because trying to get my character to punch in the right direction was often agonizingly difficult. I might need to punch up to magnetize a block and punch left or right twenty or thirty times before I got the direction I needed. In the first boss fight, I could hold left on the D-pad and punch up and down until the block I was trying to magnetize shoved me off into an incinerator without me once hitting my target. This was aggravating because I had to hit 9 blocks to defeat this boss, and every single last block was a wrestling match with the controls. Oh, and did I mention that after successfully hitting three blocks and weakening the boss, the conveyor belt under the character moves FASTER?

Have I made it clear how much I hated this whole damn slog from start to finish yet?

So, yeah, I’ve deleted the game from my Vita and I regret not having a physical copy that I could stomp on, set on fire, and shoot with a gun at a target range. I give Teslagrad 2 stars and my undying hatred.