Review: Teslapunk

In the ongoing debate about “games as art,” those who believe that this modern medium can be art have plenty to point at to bolster their argument. Shadow of the Colossus and Braid make points about perception of intent versus reality of actions, forcing gamers to reconsider their own behavior in the real world. The Persona series uses Jungian psychology as a backdrop for a series of compelling RPGs. KlutzGames are bringing their own question to be debated among the high-minded intellectuals: is the proper name of their shooter Teslapunk or Teslanarchypunk? For the sake of sanity, let’s go with Telsapunk.

That is not to say that this 2D, horizontal, bullet hell shooter has nothing to offer beyond pithy statements regarding the design of its title. There actually is a simple, but interesting system in place regarding scoring points. Flying through the the six stages, the player is afforded three offensive options. A weak spread attack is used by rapidly tapping the attack button. The more concentrated laser can be fired by holding down the button, though it slows down the ship. Finally, there is a heavy weapon attack that is charged by picking up blue cubes from downed enemies. The idea is to use this when there are tons of enemy bullets on the screen, as each bullet will add one to the multiplier. After gained, the bonus slowly ticks back down to one, making it pay to be aggressive and using this power whenever possible to keep racking up the score.

While the actual systems in place are good, everything else about this title’s execution is subpar or worse. The actual thematic conceit isn’t a terrible one. Nicola Tesla has become the geek answer to Chuck Norris; a scientific badass whose accomplishments exude awesome. “Nicola Tesla is awesome” is absolutely more amusing than the whole Norris thing ever was. Making a game where the plot is Tesla versus Violent Martians is certainly a laudable goal. Instead of taking the whole positive meme thing, though, the developers just went “lol random” with it. Why does Tesla show up with a badly Photoshopped mohawk and start spewing Ramones lyrics? So much fun could be mined from the concept that was simply ignored in favor of just silliness.

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Even those who might share this game’s idea of humor will find themselves disappointed by its actual appearance. Simply put, this game is flat out ugly with a capital Trump. Enemy design are almost uniformly grey with mechanical details, and the backgrounds are a hodgepodge of random nonsense. One stage is even just repeating blueprints. There is an occasional attempt to sync strobe lights and flashing up to the music, but the stylistic choices are almost offensive in their ocular abrasiveness. The fact that this is a port from the Ouya/mobile version is apparent, with a couple of exceptions, by the lack of any animation in the sprites. They simply slide around the background with no actual sense of movement or physicality. This is not to say that there were no effects applied to the sprites. They might be rotated, or a fade filter could be placed on one, but the lack of effort is noticeable.

One area where there was effort was the music. This is not to imply that it was good, but there is an impression that the person or persons who who created it was making a real attempt. For the most part, it is basic electronic noodling, something that could be put together after enough experimentation and false starts with a program like Propellerhead’s Reason. The lone highlight is the music for stage five, which sounds as though an electric guitar and a set of power tools entered into a polygamous relationship and created offspring in the form of this tune. Complex and detailed, this track wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, but there is some value to it.

Teslapunk’s mobile roots also show through in the form of an antiquated mission structure, similar to those found in endless runners. These missions were there to lend it a sense of progress in its original free to play format. Now, they simply feel superfluous, like a vestigial that was left in place. Speaking of endless runners, that type of mode is included. Entitled “Survival,” the player pilots a ship that is constantly firing, gathering coins to upgrade between attempts in hopes of making it a little further. While this mode seemed to be a highlight at first, the enjoyment wears off after about five minutes.

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Closing Comments:

Teslapunk simply cannot be recommended in any form. While it has a fantastic idea for a scoring system, everything else about it is simply unappealing. The visuals are such that there is a true feeling of eyestrain. This is not written to be funny, it is possible to become nauseated while playing or even watching this game due to some color choices mixed with randomly flashing lights and backgrounds. The music is almost all unlistenable. The hero worship that was intended to be here wildly misses the mark. There is a simply lack of care or talent evident throughout the ordeal. Let’s hope that KlutzGames learns from this and creates a shooter worthy of the gameplay design.

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