This Teslagrad review is really, really difficult to write because I feel absolutely nothing for the game. And it's weird to look back, having spent hours with a game, explored it, found a little under half of its secrets, and used way too many lives trying to beat ridiculously difficult bosses. I can sit here and talk about the ins and outs of what was good and what was bad - and heavens knows I've certainly done that in my head enough in preparation for this review - but when I do that I'll still be sitting here, struggling to make a real statement about what it all adds up to.
It would just wind up feeling like this objective review about Citizen Kane. Facts presented, but I just don't have anything else to say.
That's part of why this review is so late. The other was a spot about 90% through the game where it gates progress unless you've collected 15 of the hidden collectibles. I turned the game off and didn't touch it for a while.
I get that the developers likely hid the game's history in scrolls so they could brag about "visual storytelling!" This basically means they replaced words, spoken or otherwise, with pictures (the hidden scrolls) and puppet shows. It's still cutscenes, the same "scraps of paper reveal the backstory" mechanic as other games, but look! Now you don't have to read! Why hide the story if you're going to make it mandatory to discover it anyways? It's like trying to have it both ways. Rain Games is clearly proud of their fiction, but they hide it and at the same time, want to make SURE you understand what's going on with the story. It goes back to that same question then: why hide it?
Teslagrad feels like it wants to be a 2D Gone Home, an exploration-based game with a story that unfolds as you find things scattered through the world, but it doesn't feel organic in the same way nor is the story as interesting. Two groups go to war, and there's some extra lore about random things told in a three panel format.
I may be harping on this (after I mentioned how this game gave me nothing to talk about) because the game really got me thinking about stories, and how no one really hasen't come up with a really good, interesting way to use interactivity to tell game stories. Hiding the story away isn't exactly fun, but it happens all the time and it feels like it's time to move past it. Audiologs, newspaper clippings, giant encyclopedias, they all wind up being another thing people pick up before moving on because it's ultimately irrelevant.
And then you go solve a bunch of magnetism puzzles.
Magnet puzzles have always been a little weird in games because it's really easy to cheese them. And you always run into a few puzzles that you have no idea to solve, but just brute-force your way through, because of how the physics work. It's the same in Teslagrad, but most of the puzzles are pretty simple. It's the boss fights that wind up taking the most of your time. Because you die in one hit.
They're simple fights based on simple patterns, but if you're even off in a jump just a little, you'll get hit and do it again. Also for some reason, they really don't use the magnetism at all. Maybe it's because magnetism is so funky and they didn't feel it was fun and reliable as a way to deal with a boss fight? I'm just speculating here, but it's odd that the main mechanic shows up in two boss fights only.
Credits roll on a lackluster ending (and don't worry, those of you wondering if the secret ending atones for this - it doesn't! You can rest easy and not collect everything!) sooner than expected and even then I have a hard time remembering what I just did. A review to write, and no idea how to do it. It's not a bad game, it's just not really anything. I'm harping on these bits mostly because they're what I remember, and in a few weeks I'll look back and go "Oh man I played Teslagrad? That wasn't what I had hoped it would be."