Braaaaaaaains… enormous braaaaaaaaaains…
With titles like Crimsonland, Jydge and Neon Chrome already on its résumé, developer 10tons Ltd. has done enough to earn a reputation for pumping out some solid twin-stick shooters. Its next entry into the genre is Tesla vs. Lovecraft, which apes the quality mechanics found in its predecessors and adds some new gimmicks to freshen up the formula.
There are some very minor plot elements — horror fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft has unleashed a bunch of evil creatures and inventor Nikola Tesla needs to stop them — but it doesn’t affect the game. It does create a better sense of progression compared to some of the developer’s earlier fare, though, with a trio of boss fights interspersed leading up to the big showdown.
Your objective never changes: kill everything. How you go about that will change significantly, however, as you’re continually unlocking better weapons and more powerful gadgets with which to fend off increasingly dangerous hordes of enemies. You’ll also gain experience to level up, unlocking a choice between two random perks (e.g., more health, less cooldown time, bullets that ricochet and so on).
To keep you from becoming overpowered and gameplay from getting stale, all of those weapons and improvements reset each time you complete a level, leaving you with nothing more than a basic pistol that’s woefully inadequate. As such, you’ll typically spend the early moments of each level running from your foes and waiting for a decent weapon and/or gadget to spawn to help even the odds.
That setup means luck will play a role in your success or failure as certain weapons and gadgets are far superior to others — in a nice quality of life addition you can lock your preferred firearm into place so that you don’t accidentally pick something up, though the same option is unavailable for the gadgets. While that can be frustrating at times, only the most difficult levels require enough time to make failure legitimately sting.
In addition to his offensive repertoire, Tesla can also teleport short distances to escape enemies or reach a power up before it disappears. It runs on a cooldown timer, meaning you’ll need to be smart about how you use it, especially initially when you’re limited to three charges. It’s unquestionably the most important move at your disposal and does the most to give Tesla vs. Lovecraft a different feel.
Beyond that, the game’s other big trick is a giant mech suit with a pair of mini guns that mows down enemies in a fraction of the time that you can on foot. You’ll be spawned in the suit at the start of each level, but it quickly times out and you can only summon it again once you’ve collected the requisite six pieces. Using it at the right moment can turn the tide of a battle and is critical to success.
RPG elements have been added as well. You can level up fundamental abilities — like the number of times you can teleport or how long your mech can remain — by spending the crystals earned for killing enemies or completing daily challenges. Plus, the more of a particular enemy you kill the more proficient you get at killing them in the future via damage bonuses. There’s a lot going on.
As a likely concession to keeping all that action on the screen flowing at a healthy clip, the presentation fails to impress. Location layouts are similar from one level to the next, and neither the monster design nor variety is strong. As with 10tons’ previous titles, the music did nothing for us. In fact, we played 95 per cent of the game with the volume on the lowest possible setting.
Although there is a respectable number of levels, including more difficult versions on the unlockable Aether and Eldritch planes, it’s unusual for the tactics to change. You’re almost always retreating and kiting enemies until you find the pieces to assemble the mech or are dealt the right combo of guns and/or power ups to make a meaningful dent in their numbers. That hurts the replay value a bit.
Tesla vs. Lovecraft isn’t much of a looker, but it adds some enjoyable wrinkles on top of a rock-solid foundation as a twin-stick shooter. Genre fans would do well to pick this up.