Having played Teslagrad Remastered only a few weeks ago, we had a unique chance to sit and imagine what we would do with the sequel, moments before we actually got to play it. We imagined a deeper story and longer runtime. We fancied that developers Rain Games would create a more intricate Metroidvania-like world, with even more collectibles nestled into each corner. And we expected art as refined and delightful as the first game.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and right. It shows what we know about game development. But within those subverted expectations is a positive: isn’t it great when a sequel comes along and speeds off in a direction you least expect? We ended up surprised, a little delighted, and – on more than one occasion – a little wistful that it didn’t take up a few of those gauntlets.
Teslagrad 2 doesn’t particularly pick up the baton from where Teslagrad left it. We’re in a new world – Wyrmheim, very fashionably riffing on Scandinavian myth – with a new character, Lumina. She’s escaping viking oppressors, which brings her into contact with much the same powers as Teslagrad’s boy. Soon, she is attracting and repelling blocks, walls and ceilings using basic powers of electromagnetism.
We thought Teslagrad 2 would double-down on story, like the Inside and Limbo-like opening moments of the first game. But instead it reverses away from them. Teslagrad 2 isn’t particularly interested in what its world means or what Lumina’s place is within it: the closest we get to story is beamed through TV screens and murals. We will hold our hands up and admit being a little disappointed that the physics-based gameplay took a front seat again. It’s such a vibrant, interesting world that it seems like negligence to ignore it.
What we get instead is platform-puzzling based around those electromagnetism abilities. They start out simple and acutely reminiscent of the first game, but then shoots off in a completely new and ambitious direction. Sonic the Hedgehog eat your heart out, as Lumina soon gains a sprint ability that dovetails neatly with the attraction mechanics. She scoots up walls and waterfalls, leaping over chasms to attract to walls on the other side. Suddenly, we were playing OlliOlliWorld or Sonic Mania rather than Teslagrad 2.
This will either be a very good thing or something of a disappointment, based on your expectations. We will admit to skewing towards the latter, simply because of what it does to the Metroidvania structure. Suddenly, we were careening through the world at great speed, and there was an abiding sense that we were missing things. What was in that door we passed, and should we have picked up that collectible? But returning to those locations, we found that we hadn’t missed much. Collectibles, like cards and secret upgrades, don’t have much bearing on Teslagrad 2, which creates an awkward dichotomy of skipping levels without actually skipping all that much.
It had the effect of making Teslagrad 2’s world less dense, intricate and worth exploring. The designers were clearly racing to keep up, too, so out went the labyrinthine level design of the first game (admittedly losing the backtracking too, which we didn’t miss at all), and in came something more linear. You are a juggernaut heading to the end of the game, and very little stops you, outside of some bosses and puzzle sticking-points. Again, it’s horses for courses, but we felt like Teslagrad 2 was a more throwaway game for it.
Teslagrad 2 is not a Tolstoyan epic. It’s over in a few hours (five if you’re us, and you get stuck on the moose boss or fail to figure out that certain abilities had particular, useful side effects). That’s not a problem in and of itself: a game that enthralls for an afternoon is just as valuable to us as a Brobdingnagian RPG like Starfield. But as we stood at the game’s end and looked back, we felt emptier than we did first time round. We weren’t as compelled to replay; we didn’t feel like we had been pushed to the edges of our puzzling ability; and the collectibles, the glittering baubles that tempted us last time round, just weren’t as glittery.
We wonder whether we came to Teslagrad 2 in completely the wrong mindset. Instead of playing this ten years after the first game, as so many players will, we played it a couple of weeks later. That not only leads to a little fatigue, but means we were constantly comparing the two. Plus we did that stupid exercise of imagining what our version of Teslagrad 2 would be. Suddenly, we had something that Teslagrad 2 didn’t dare to match.
Because there is some wonderful craft here. It can’t be mentioned enough how ridiculously pretty Teslagrad 2 is. You can wander into an architrave or cavernous passage with the sunlight beaming through and stop to wonder. It’s capable of taking the breath away in that regard. While we’re unsure if the Norse folk music fits all of the gameplay scenarios, it’s also lilting and powerful in equal measure.
Plus there’s some of puzzle gaming’s finest minds at Rain Games. When things get complicated, they get very very complicated, and it can bake the noodle trying to figure out what the game wants from you. Equally, it never goes so far into difficulty that you can’t eventually comprehend the combination of abilities that get you past the spiky vines or stalagmites. We’d have taken a hint system for those moments where we felt irretrievably stuck, but we always found a way out of our predicament.
We have no illusions about which of the two Teslagrads we prefer. The first game, recently remastered, is just that little bit more considered, clever and rewarding. Teslagrad 2 ups the cool factor by handing you a breakneck slide, letting you glide about like Sonic, but the result lacks the first game’s finesse. But we’re still in the presence of some fantastic artists and puzzle designers, so you can be reassured that it’s worth clearing a few hours of your afternoon to reap the rewards of ten years of sequel development.