Confession time. When Luke (Radian Games) first dropped Joy Joy on XBLIG I was a right miserable sod about it. I was wrong, as I often could be, and it was perfectly fine but for whatever reason, I gave it a right grumpy old write up.
I know, I know. I think it’s well documented that past me was a complete clownshoe of a human at this junction but really, I remember Joy Joy especially because without a shadow of a doubt, Luke’s games are ones I look forward to the most now. Filed alongside Yak and Giles, Hermit Games, Vertex Pop and Pumpkin Games, a new one is a really exciting prospect.
Like most of us who work the arcade beat, we all generally know it’s playing selling games on hard mode so it was no surprise to me when the incredible Devastator looked to be Luke’s final foray into the arena shooter. Getting by in games whilst making this stuff is a tough gig and well, at least Devastator would have been one heck of a game to go out on (The Donlan knows).
So, yeah, getting another Radian arena shooter is one of the nicest and most unexpected surprises. Getting one where even the menu screens look remarkable and the game even more so? Bit rude, really. In all the very, very, best ways.
Tesla Force has one of the most immediately disarming structures to a twin stick shooter I’ve played. In a good way, mind.
Picking up from the also wonderful Tesla Vs Lovecraft, Tesla Force reimagines the game as a more open, customisable, less guided experience. With co-op. I really like it but yeah, it certainly caught me off guard at first.
There’s a familiarity there, sure. If you’ve played Tesla Vs Lovecraft then you’ll be instantly at home with the menagerie of beasties, the mech/on foot/mech rhythm and the large array of weaponry, upgrades and whatever you can acquire. It’s all really solid, filling the screen with bullets and colourful explosions hasn’t gotten old yet and I’ve been playing this on and off for ages and ages now.
The surprising part is just how much freedom 10 Tons have built into the progression and how generous it is.
Sure, you’ll be exploding monsters into pretty colours in order to collect gems in order to spend gems to buy more ways of exploding monsters into pretty colours and repeat – fairly standard stuff – but unlike 10 Tons previous twin stickers, Tesla Force is (for want of a better phrase) a roguelike.
Each playthrough has you work your way through a procedurally generated map, moving from node to node until you reach the inevitable final boss. The first few rounds limits the choice of routes the player can take but a few upgrades later and the map is positively sprawling. So far so roguelike! I mean, it works doesn’t it? So, why not!
However, with the exception of the boss nodes, the stages don’t actually end. I can keep playing each one, rinsing them for gems and pretty colours until I decide to leave. As I say, it’s disarming at first. Even the lootiest of looter ARPGs tend to have a point where the player has exhausted things to do in a stage and they’re forced to move on yet Tesla Force leaves that up to the player.
Of course, there’s a wrinkle! This is a videogame after all and they’re tricksy things at the best of times. Once I begin the first stage, a countdown begins – the ominously named death clock – and each time the countdown reaches zero, the game gets a little bit more difficult, harsher, more abrasive. So the longer I spend on a stage, the more things get tricky, the more the stage will require more firepower, more health, more skill to survive.
Sure, I can keep grinding stage after stage but the longer I spend doing that, the more difficult the later stages are going to be. The more difficult the stage I’m grinding is going to be, never mind.
Whereas this would be a pretty oppressive system in most games, when combined with the brevity of each stage and the huge amount of skills and upgrades available to buy with your gems, it’s the other one. It’s remarkably freeing and lets me control the difficulty from stage to stage. If I fancy an easy ride? Get in, complete the objective, move onto the next node until done. Fancy testing myself? Stick around. No matter what happens, I’ll be collecting gems to spend on more upgrades or weaponry, each completed stage hands me a new weapon or ability to add to my arsenal, each game over nudging me closer to another unlock. In Tesla Force (as with a number of other recent roguelikes) a game over is an interruption, rather than an end.
There’s always progress and it’s hardly stingy, there isn’t an unlock that doesn’t make some tangible difference to the game and there is a lot to unlock. I’ve been playing for ages now and haven’t even got round to giving any of the other characters you can unlock a shot. I’ve been far too busy buying more weapons, more abilities, more slots to pop abilities into, more firepower, more time in the mech and on. I’m sure I’ll get round to giving them a go soon but y’know, I’m having loads of fun as it is. No rush!
Tesla Force is a wonderful game. I’ve been playing it on PS4 (and more recently on the Switch) and it’s not got any less enjoyable for all the (many!) hours I’ve pumped into it. In fact, I think I’ll just sneak another go in now whilst no-one is looking.
Whilst the high bar for Asteroids reinventions remains a tie between Spheres Of Chaos (I prefer the older version over 2012’s rejig but YMMV, they’re both available for free now) and Echoes (Again. I prefer + to 3 but honestly. It’s so close in quality as to be unimportant), Debris Infinity (available on Steam too) is certainly worth a mention also.
After being mildly disappointed by the recent Asteroids Recharged (it’s not a bad game but it did very little to excite me, I wouldn’t not recommend it but I’d not enthuse over it in a hurry either) I’ve been on the look out for a fresh & decent new arcade take on Asteroids and stumbled onto Debris Infinity pretty much by accident whilst rummaging for something else I’d forgotten the name of.
It’s a game that fuses, surprisingly successfully, Echoes style arena based asteroid shooting and familiar Geometry Wars enemy wave patterns across a handful of modes. So twin stick asteroids with bolt ons, essentially. I doubt anyone going into this, even having not played either of the games it borrows from, would find many surprises here.
It’s definitely scrappy! The art is a bit all over the shop both in style and in coherence, the asteroids and smaller enemies are great, it’s sort of just the rest of it that doesn’t always come together.
Which is fine, you know? I’m not complaining so much as just stating something rather obvious. I can’t say it bothered me even for a moment because I was far too busy trying not to crash my spaceship into things but it does mean it doesn’t present quite so well in a single screenshot.
So, it all kind of adds up to a game I enjoyed a lot but also, don’t really have all that much to talk about with it. It’s a good, solid, enjoyable Asteroids variant where everything glows really nicely and has enough flashing lights to keep me quiet.
I’ve been dipping in and out of it on the Switch but the game’s available most other places, except for PlayStation for whatever reason. Definitely worth a punt.