Teslapunk brings back the good old fashion shmup, the bullet hell shooter in all it’s simplicity and intensity. And it’s a rather neat example of the genre, too, offering a nice gradual difficulty curve and simple yet effective mechanics to open the genre up to the wider audience.
Teslapunk’s silly story sees Nikola Tesla build an energy weapon firing craft – and later a deathray – to combat an invading alien threat. In classic bullet hell tradition you take your craft and battle wave after wave of alien ships – small, large and monstrous – on a vertically scrolling screen. Energy bolts fill the screen coming from both you and the aliens, joined by a cacophony of laser beams. Meanwhile, only the smallest glowing point on your craft detects hits, allowing you to weave between the madness and shoot back.
It’s traditional gameplay from a genre that’s struggled to evolve over the decades, however, Teslapunk does throw a few unique additions into the mix to make it stand out. For one, there are no upgrades for your ship or weapons, instead you tap the A button to fire a wide field of volleys towards enemies – perfects for dealing with the smaller alien crafts that attempt to swarm you – and hold the A button to fire a narrower but more powerful continuous beam – ideal for larger foes. This simplifies proceedings and reduces the element of luck that power-ups and upgrades may otherwise provide, and makes death less punishing as you don’t lose any of your ship’s effectiveness. Moreover, the continuous beam slows your ships down slightly, allowing you to manoeuvre with finer but slower control and adding a little strategy to dodging the overwhelming projectiles raining down on you. Additionally, by collecting blue energy squares you can fill a meter and unleash a powerful screen clearing attack that also clears the screen of projectiles. This is also automatically activated if you have enough of the meter filled after being hit, acting as a shield of sorts but coast more of the meter than if manually activated.
The stages also sport a curiously uniquely aesthetic. Developer, klutzGames, have scanned old electronic and technical manuals and books to create the backgrounds. It’s a refreshing visual oddity that lacks the beauty and vast colour palette of titles such as DoDonPachi Resurrection and Ikaruga, looking a little drab as a result of the scans, but catches the eye nonetheless.
Across the six stages of the arcade mode the enemy numbers increase, their patterns become more complex and their fire more intense. Mid way through each stage you’ll fight a boss and then another, more powerful end of stage boss. Meanwhile, a multiplier builds with each kill that enhances your score significantly, until you die and it’s reset. Completing the six stages and setting a high score are your objectives, and online leaderboards keep it competitive and encourage replay.
An additional survival mode offers a slightly different experience, again with a leaderboard, but it shifts focus to collecting coins rather than destroying enemies. Meanwhile, additional objectives are added to your arcade playthrough that slowly unlocks the deathray, ready to be unleashed.
Unfortunately that’s all there is to Teslapunk. The bane of shmups is their reliance on leaderboards. Teslapunk’s simplified weapons and gradual difficulty curve make it a more accessible title within the genre but it’s longevity is largely going to depend on how compelling you find high score setting. However, it’s a seldom seen genre for this console generation so far, which gives Teslapunk added appeal for those in the mood to dart deftly through storms of energy bolts and return fire with your own hail of projectiles.
Thanks to Xbox and klutzGames for their support
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