Tesla: The Weather Man – Review
by Mark R
There are few games that I can honestly say have made me smile from the first play, and fewer still are capable of holding my attention for eight hours straight from that first moment where the game leaves the title screen and presents you with the first level. Tesla: The Weather Man (hereafter referred to as TTWM) is one such game.
It was the final day of PAX East and, immediately after our interview with Demiurge for Shoot Many Robots, we were approached by a smartly dressed young man clutching a DVD, claiming to be a videogame developer. We chatted for a few minutes about where they were based, what the game was about, and whether they’d considered bringing it to the UK market and shortly thereafter we went on our separate ways, but not before we were given a copy of the game as well as a business card for Thoughtquake Studios.
As one who doesn’t often use a laptop, the game was quickly forgotten until recently when I was frantically searching for something altogether trivial and came across the game in the laptop case, which hadn’t been touched since returning from PAX. After a few minutes of quiet “Should I… or I should I not?” contemplation, I gave in and decided to give the game a chance, already convinced that it was likely going to be a dreadful example of independent development. Not that I’m against indie studios, far from it in fact, but years of running a music magazine and managing bands had me listen to thousands of demo tapes with only one ever being worthy of any praise. I naturally assumed that it would be the same for video games.
I was wrong. Very wrong.
The premise of the game is that Thomas Edison, sent spiralling into madness after a “violent rage” resulting from Tesla’s success with alternating current, has built an army of DC-powered robots and is wreaking havoc. Playing as Nikola Tesla, it is your role to thwart his attempts by destroying his army, navigating a series of puzzle levels to do so, by harnessing the power of the weather as your only means of attack and defense.
Level one begins with Tesla completely helpless, having not yet begun to construct his wrist-powered weather controller but, thankfully, the developers thought far enough ahead to not only make this first level ridiculously easy but also include some rather comedic tutorial moments from none other than Mark Twain. Having not played many puzzle games, I can’t immediately cite any examples of similar games but, as you have to utilise whatever objects are peppered throughout the level along with your weather controller to manipulate the environment around you, I’d have to say that Tesla: The Weather Man has a fair number of similarities to Portal, albeit within a two dimensional arena. The tagline “Think With Portals” could easily be altered to “Think With Weather” and there, in a nutshell, is the entire ethos of this game… as long as you can think with the weather you can progress to the next level, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.
In order to successfully clear each level, you must collect artifacts to help add more power to your weather controlling abilities. The first power you’ll acquire allows you to control lightning by generating positive charges which rise to the sky and meet with falling negative charges, ultimately creating bolts of lightning that can be used to take out Edison’s various robots in a rather cruel, yet entertaining, fashion.
As well as collecting powers, you’re rewarded for reaching checkpoints and completing levels by earning Research Points. These points serve as a cross between the in-game currency and the skill points you’d expect to find from a role playing game, whereby spending a particular number of points earns a new perk or attribute and, in turn, enhance existing skills with some inspired twists. Not knowing what lies ahead, however, means that you can never really predict which of these will come in useful and which will be a wasted spend. Did I mention the doves? In a game littered with a very distinct kooky style, the only real way to travel is by tethering a dole of doves to your person to act as an impromptu flying machine! Throughout the various levels, stumbling across a dove will add this feathered friend to your existing collection and with each new recruit, your jumping skills become further improved to help with those trickier leaps.
The gameplay itself is difficult to describe without actually giving away some of the puzzle aspect, so I’m somewhat hesitant to even begin. That being said, Thomas from Thoughtquake was keen to point out that there are several ways to complete each of the levels and, in some cases, people playing the game have surprised them by using methods that they hadn’t even considered themselves during the development process. Surely a sign of how well the mechanics work alongside the premise of the game?
Picture it if you will: before you lies a deep lake, stretching almost the full width of your screen and no visible way of crossing. Above you, in typical “how can clumps of grass be suspended in mid air?” platformer fashion, a lone crate rests on said suspended clump and above you, far out of reach, is a switch attached to a rusted water outlet. In early stages of the game, your telekinetic ability won’t have been upgraded to the point of being able to select objects from anywhere within the current screen and will be restricted to a smaller personal radius, so it’s not possible to cross the lake by bringing the crate towards you, climbing aboard and then levitating the crate across the lake. You neither have the ability to freeze the surface of the lake and simply walk across it. To all intents and purposes, you’re stuck, because venturing into the water will kill you as the Weather Controller will electrocute you on contact with liquid.
What you can do, however, is to just about jump close and high enough to the ledge and catch hold of the crate using your telekinesis, levitating it down to ground level. Some clever manoeuvering will then allow you to move the crate to the higher ledge above and rest it on top of the switch, thereby starting the engine that powers the water through the outlet. The water then slowly drips on to the lake, causing a current, and your crate can then be moved back down and placed on the water… you stand on the crate, constantly correcting your balance as you go, and the current carries you to the other side. I made this particular scenario up as I don’t want to give any of the puzzles away, but even in earlier stages of the game, and with so few powers, some forward thinking can make light work of even the most puzzling moments.
The beauty of the puzzles is that they’re not just down to mental dexterity. With a high degree of free movement from the enemy faction’s robots, you may be able to see a way through to the next area using all available environmental objects, but the organic nature of the enemies means that this isn’t always attainable without several restarts. Take level 23, for example. It’s not particularly difficult to complete, as long as you have the necessary skills with which to open the playing field (one of which pulls the camera back to allow for a wider perspective, showing more of the higher and lower levels) but actually reaching that goal can often be hampered by the unpredictability of the other side. This is by no means a total negative, as it adds that “just one more go” aspect which, in my experience, can end up being a solid eight hour stint of pure enjoyment.
Graphically, Tesla: The Weather Man is comprised of entirely hand drawn set pieces, objects and characters. While it didn’t quite have the meticulous attention to detail, it was almost reminiscent of the original Willow arcade cabinet with its strong earthy style, albeit delicately airbrushed. As a graphics whore, my initial reaction to the near-retro design style was one of surprise, but I quickly reminded myself that this wasn’t being put together by a group of fifty veterans… this is two young men striving to create something unique, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. The music is catchy and well written… to the point where I found myself humming it whenever I’d stopped playing, the sound effects are clear and quirky, and everything ties in nicely without any obvious jarring, making for a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Tesla: The Weather Man is available directly from Thoughtquake for only $3.33 USD, which is just over £2.00 GBP… buy it… your life might just depend on it!Pros
- Thought provoking gameplay and inspired puzzles
- Great sense of humour
- Utterly addictive in every way
- How many games have your character being carried by tethered doves??
- Total of 30 great levels
- Ridiculously low price of around £2
- Too addictive to only have 30 levels!
- The A.I. could sometimes get in the way of actual skill
- Very rarely, the A.I. got stuck in the landscape
Tesla: The Weather Man is the most surprising game I've played this year, and for many reasons. It's not only surprisingly addictive, and by that I mean it's very easy to lose an entire day and not realise it, but it's also ridiculously well made for a two man team. As patronising as it sounds to refer to Thoughtquake Studios as "a two man team", I do so because it should be admired and because it's easy to forget that this wasn't created by a dozen or more individuals.
Ripping me out of my typical WRPG comfort zone, Telsa: The Weather Man reminded me of a time when gameplay was the most important aspect of a game. A time when graphics were there to support the action rather than disguise any lack thereof. A time when we all dreamed about being a video game developer and never quite managed to get off our arses to do anything about it. Thoughtquake did, and they did it well.
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