I’ve often wondered why the works of H.P. Lovecraft aren’t used more in gaming narratives. Sure, you’ll get the odd gem such as Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, and Lovecraft inspired enemies can be found in a whole host of games, but his stories come from such a dark, rich, and recognizable world that could easily be mined for so much more. Tesla vs Lovecraft is, therefore, a game I was excited to play. Now, I’ve never played Crimsonland, so I did not have any idea of developer 10tons’ pedigree going into this experience, but I am a fan of old school and arcadey action games. Isometric twin-stick shooter certainly falls into this category. Let’s dive in a find out if the game lived up to my expectations.
So, first things first, the game’s premise is more important in creating atmosphere then it is in setting up any sort of narrative hook. You play as real-life 19th-century inventor Nikola Tesla. Now, Tesla is known for being a bit of an eccentric and for his various experiments involving electricity. This apparently includes the creation of a giant mech which I don’t remember from history class. I blame the poor US public school system. Now, H.P. Lovecraft, author of the Cthulu mythos, is taking an issue with Tesla’s work. Some things man just shouldn’t tamper with, after all. His solution? Summoning the unspeakable eldritch abominations from his tales to burn down Tesla’s lab and steal his inventions. It’s certainly a unique story and one that sets up the world of the game quite nicely, but it basically ends there. If you are expecting any sort of deep narrative experience you may want to look elsewhere.
Tesla vs. Lovecraft is a top-down stick shooter. This means that you navigate the world with the left thumbstick and aim with the right. The main focus of the game is clearing waves of enemies (as well as completing a few other goals) on each stage in order to proceed to the next. Your main mode of attack involves whatever gun your character finds on the stage. The game keeps things simple. You can move, shoot, and also use special items that you can collect during the stage. As far as movement options go, you have a short range teleport. Learning to master this teleport is vital once the game’s difficulty really ramps up.
As you play the game you will unlock additional weapon options, which goes a long way to keep the game feeling fresh. These weapons will not become part of your inventory, rather they will become possible guns that you can pick up on the stage.
Most progression works similarly in the game. You gain levels that can be used to unlock new traits. These traits have a variety of effects, from extra health to constant aoe damage buffs to the ability to reduce the cooldown on your teleport. These levels reset each stage, however. The progression really comes from the fact that you unlock new POSSIBLE traits, guns, and weapons as time goes on. In other words, each stage starts you off at square one, but the possible power-ups in each stage will increase in quality and number the further in you are.
The actual Tesla mech should also be mentioned. You are nigh unbeatable when you have it, but it lasts for a very short amount of time. You can level up in a way that increases its usefulness, and you can also find the mech’s parts scattered throughout each stage in order to give it another go. Still, the majority of the game you will be on foot. The game is challenging but I found that with the right traits and mindset it very seldom feels overwhelming. I also found that offensive powerups are the way to go as most stages only last a few minutes and being able to mow down the enemy horde as quickly as possible is the best option.
Tesla vs. Lovecraft is a game that is spooky and atmospheric but not actually dark. The locals are usually appropriately gothic, with gnarled trees, cobblestone streets, and even a few cemeteries. This is offset by Tesla’s weaponry, however, most of which use bright color and interesting effects to separate them from their locals. The music is also quite good, matching the mood of the maps perfectly.
If you are not a fan of twin stick shooters, I don’t think this game will change your mind. If you do like this sort of gameplay, though, Tesla vs. Lovecraft offers a fair amount of challenge and replayability in a very aesthetically please package.