Impressions: Teslapunk


While watching the Ridley Scott film, Alien, with the director’s commentary, I remember how he said the aesthetic he was going for was “a trucker’s in space.” It was quite a revolutionary direction for sci-fi movies to take at the time, because most sci-fi in Hollywood and outside of it consisted of people in silver glitter hitting random flashing buttons. Sure, there was Star Wars, but this was grimy and dark, and that’s before we even get on to the H.R. Giger stuff.

Teslapunk, a bullet-hell arcade shmup, similarly captures a sci-fi world with a focus on oily engineering and rusted mechanics. To look at it, you probably wouldn’t guess that Teslapunk is Thorsten Fleisch’s first game. He’s borrowed some of the techniques he used when creating short films to give Teslapunk this look; it’s gritty and wizened, yet futuristic. Some call it Dieselpunk, but this is Teslapunk, and it’s available for free on the App Store and through Google Play.

Fleisch explains to me that all of the graphics are collaged from photographs and illustrations from ancient books, and it’s that tactile approach that offers the game its heavy, vintage feel. And if you think that’s at all impressive, just read about how he captured the high-voltage:

“All the high-voltage design in the game is based on actual high-voltage. For a film of mine called Energie!, which was also the starting point for Teslapunk, I developed my own method of capturing high-voltage discharges on photo paper (very similar to Kirlian photography). For the discharges, I used a transformer with a 30,0000-volt output.”

This aesthetic fits well with the game’s story. You play Nikola Tesla, who’s forced to stop Dr. Mabuse from installing his empire of crime. So, being Tesla, he invents a Death-Ray to stop Mabuse and charges in with his ship to take Mabuse and his technologies out.


Teslapunk comes with two gameplay modes: Arcade and Survival. The latter encourages short bursts of play as you start with a weak ship that’s able to move across the horizontal axis and shoots the lines of enemies that charge down from the top of the screen. You’ll only get so far before your weak gun won’t be able to take out the tougher ships. So, what you have to do is collect the coins the enemies drop, and then spend them on upgrades that allow you to get further and further, a cyclical method of progressing.

The Arcade mode is where it’s really at, though. It’s unfortunate that there are only three levels so far, with a couple more to come in the future, though they should provide plenty of challenge, and high-score chasers will stick with it even longer. In Arcade, you control a much more powerful ship and have full manoeuvrability of the screen, and you’ll need it! Small ships fly in from all directions, spraying bullets in clumps and easy-to-dodge patterns. You control Tesla’s ship by holding your finger on the screen, and the latency is certainly up to scratch so that you have the confidence to dodge as you’ll need to. Good job too as it’s a one-hit kill otherwise.

“The subsequent boss fights make great use of the full screen as well, which is much more interesting than many of the shmups that rely on tougher bosses that sit at the top of the screen, spewing bullets.”

TeslapunkInstead of coins, the enemies drop voltage cubes for you to collect in Arcade, and once you’ve collected enough, you can tap the screen with a second finger and release a Voltage Burst. This is vital for survival at times as it sucks all the bullets from the screen and turns them into multipliers for your score. The multiplier caps at x999, so you can imagine the possibilities for high scores in Teslapunk.

The action is really great throughout. Each level has a mini-boss to death dance with, and then a bigger boss at the end. The first level grabs you with its tumultuous start, but the second and third levels really ramp things up by adding new enemies that spurt more challenging patterns, as well as various blocks that move across the screen, as if part of a production line. Dodging those and dealing with enemies is testing, especially when the speed of the scrolling gets kicked up a notch every other second. The music is very well-synced to the fast pace too as it blends 80s melodies with drum-’n’-bass and speedy screeches of 90s hard house and techno. The subsequent boss fights make great use of the full screen as well, which is much more interesting than many of the shmups that rely on tougher bosses that sit at the top of the screen, spewing bullets. The second boss captures you in a section of a bullet wheel and forces you to rotate with it, while the background spins like something from a nightmare circus, for instance.

The only thing I’m a little concerned about with the game are the payment systems, the one used for the Arcade mode in particular. The Survival mode uses coins, as I said, but these are collected in-game. However, you can purchase bulks of coins to save yourself the hassle with real money. The Arcade mode, however, uses bills. Buying these allows you to have more tries at the Arcade mode; otherwise you start off with, I think, 25 lives with which to play the game over as many times as you like. I haven’t got that far, but I presume if you run out of these lives or continues, then you can only play the Arcade mode if you buy some bills.

I’d rather just pay up-front for the game and play it as many times as I like. And it’s definitely a game with enough quality to warrant a decent price, in my opinion.

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