Tesla vs Lovecraft Review
An unapologetically simple top-down action shooter
Have you ever wanted to play a game as inventor and electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla piloting a mech, as he fights off monsters summoned by a magic-wielding H.P. Lovecraft? I know, who hasn’t, right? Luckily, there exists a game to satiate just such a craving, in 10tons’ Tesla vs Lovecraft. It’s science vs magic in a showdown of historical legends; surely this must make for an epic experience, right? Well, you might be a bit disappointed… While this setup sounds intriguing, the game is basically a top-down, twin stick shooter that feels one step away from a freemium mobile game; it just happens to be dressed with a cool thematic overlay. It’s certainly no epic RPG, or emotional, text-laden interactive novel like the title makes it sound.
You control a heat-packing Tesla, who can arm himself with anything from your typical shotgun or pistol, to rifles that fire lasers and lightning balls. Apparently, Lovecraft has deemed Tesla’s scientific and technological achievements dangerous; yes, the same Lovecraft who sees fit to spawn armies of man-eating mutants. Thus, the novelist takes on a new title of arsonist as he sets Tesla’s laboratory ablaze. Out for revenge against your unlikely nemesis, you venture out to defeat Lovecraft and his horde of monsters. Again, this sounds much cooler than it plays out.
The name of the game is to run around enclosed outdoor Gothic-themed environments and simply survive while firing away at armies of demons, critters, and any combination thereof. The end game usually oscillates between surviving for a certain threshold of time and taking out a predetermined number of rapidly spawning baddies. The game’s secondary objectives often include snatching up pieces of a mech, which spawn at random sections of the map. These are your tickets to technological glory, as you can take control of the completed mech and wreak havoc on waves of monsters. That is, until the mech’s destroyed, which doesn’t take long, and you’re soon forced to fall back to your less-than-effective pistol or shotgun.
Other mini-objectives include taking out spawners in the form of giant winged skulls and snatching randomly placed “aether crystals,” which act as a sort of currency to put towards permanent perks or buffs. These are obtained both in the maps themselves and by reaching various achievement thresholds. By spending these crystals, you can unlock more abilities such as a quick dash move, extra armor, or begin each stage with a random perk. You’re also able to notch temporary perks in a sort of roguelike fashion from stage to stage by accumulating XP.
You’ll find that your XP bar fills up at a pretty rapid pace, so leveling up becomes an almost game-disruptingly frequent occurrence. Every time you gain a level, you can pick from a few randomly generated buffs which typically don’t make an apparent difference off the bat, but as they pile up can make you more effective in battle. These range from fire bullets, to faster reloading, and even gunfire that ricochettes of walls; quickly turning the scene into a zombie-laden version of pinball.
Obtaining these abilities is a frequent process, providing a healthy dose of progression; though the fact that each stage wipes this progress clean is a bit of a buzz-kill. Sure, you typically manage to fight your way back to dominance with how fast you can level up. Yet, you don’t get much of a sense of permanent progression with how swiftly and frequently everything gets reshuffled.
Luckily, even with your stats being reset, the game manages to feel pretty straightforward and simple, almost to a fault. The aforementioned distractions of mini-objectives aside, Tesla vs Lovecraft basically boils down to scrambling about a small square or rectangular grid and constantly spraying bullets like a madman. If you’ve played Time Recoil, another entry from 10tons, you’ll likely have an even easier time as the game plays and feels awfully similar mechanically.
Even if you find yourself engulfed by an enemy mob or pinned against a wall, you can simply dash 2 or 3 times right through the mess to a safer location. You can even dash through walls; a satisfying feature and a simple way to leave baddies in the dust as they claw their way through the obstruction.
As long as you’ve got your mech, or even a rapidly firing weapon, you probably won’t break much of a sweat until way deep into the game. And with how frequent weapon drops are, you usually won’t be stuck with the less effective artillery for long. You can grab special electrical-themed weapons and abilities, such as nova blasts, which further boost and diversify your offensive prowess. You’ll even be tossed an occasional nuke, which will completely wipe the screen of all enemies; a mercy gift that got me out of trouble on many occasions.
The game’s simplicity in and of itself shouldn’t be viewed as a hindrance, though often times it made the experience feel a bit dull. I don’t think I perished until the final 5 or 6 stages, which began to throw waves of enemies at me - along with a few bosses - at an absurd pace. Essentially two words kept coming to mind when burning through this game: mindless action.
It’s important to note however, the additional two difficulty tiers included - which unlock upon completion of the game’s normal mode - are much, much more difficult, to the point where it feels jarring. With a much higher spawn rate consisting of tougher monsters, the difficulty spike is massively steep, and oddly there doesn’t seem to be much in between, so that sweet spot in difficulty isn’t often hit. Perhaps this is to coax players into replaying stages to collect more crystals and land more permanent unlocks, but the level of repetition and watered-down gameplay makes this a pretty hard sell.
Another element worth mentioning is the inclusion of a local co-op multiplayer, which certainly adds to the excitement and overall enjoyment. It also makes those runs in the game’s harder modes - known as the Aether and Eldrich Planes - more doable. Still, like the single player campaign, it fails to really hold up in the long run, and it probably won’t be long until you or your friend express a desire to move on to some Mario Kart. Finally, a survival mode is included, offering another source of entertainment particularly for those who value bragging rights, as they can compete for a score atop the online leaderboard. This is a minor inclusion to be sure, but one that injects some much-needed replay value.
There’s not a ton to say about Tesla vs Lovecraft artistically either aside from a couple cool brief comic-style cutscenes and a smattering of effects from the weapons. This seems like a bit of wasted potential for such an amusing and wacky premise. Prominent shades of blues and blacks that dominate the color scheme, and the mostly flat, top-down perspective don’t do the game many favors from a visual standpoint. Nor does the somewhat generic rock and orchestral tracks that run in the background of the action. There are some neat particle effects that help color the scenes in the form of some of the more impactful weaponry and abilities, but there’s little else of note aesthetically. That’s not to say the visuals and audio are ugly - but they’re just sort of “there”, and do little to stand out.
Ultimately, Tesla vs Lovecraft can work as a decent way to kill a little time on a morning train commute, or as a background distraction while watching TV, but not much else. I played this on the Switch, which is undoubtedly a great fit for this sort of mindless, pick-up-and-play formula. But while this is an easy game to get into, it’s also difficult to keep you engaged for very long, with its pummeling bouts of repetition and its lack of substance.