When I had beaten the final boss in Teslagrad, I didn’t want the experience to end. There was much more that I had wanted to know about the wordless puzzle platformer’s steampunk-inspired world, not least the electromagnetic powers that your character wielded thanks to ancient Teslamancer technology.
I was excited, then, when developer Rain Games announced World to the West – a standalone sequel that builds upon the Teslagrad universe, that carried with it the open promise that players would meet both new and familiar faces. But while the abandoned Tesla Tower still looms tall in the distance on the main menu screen, there has been a somewhat daring move to shift away from 2D side-scrolling design to a top-down action-adventure. That’s a challenge that the developer manages to overcome, leaving them the chance to concentrate on breathing more life into their world.
Out too is the single protagonist, replaced with four unique characters that have their motivations, skills, and interwoven storylines that the developer has spun. In the search for her father, Lumina, the Teslamancer, manages to accidentally reactivate a disused teleporter that transports her to a strange world. Knaus, The Scrappy Survivor, escapes from the mine in which the bigger kids force him to work in, but soon learns that he isn’t on the surface of the moon like they had him believe. And then there’s Miss Teri, The Mindbender, who is a mercenary that is contracted to retrieve a mysterious artefact, and Lord Clonington, The Strongman Aristocrat, a moustachioed clone from a distant nation that soon becomes caught up in everything.
We are introduced to each character in the game’s successive opening chapters, coming to understand their circumstances and predicaments before fate starts to bring them together. There’s an old woman, too, who, along with her unwavering enthusiasm, greets each character in a temple that was constructed many years ago. The arrival of each character was foretold, and that plays into the Totems, that have their faces carved into each, that have been constructed throughout the world. These act as save points, the place at which you can switch between characters, and fast travel locations, although that only applies if all characters that are teleporting have been there before.
As I mentioned before, each character has their own skills to put to use. As a Teslamancer, Lumina can Blink to teleport forwards a short distance in the direction that she is facing or can momentarily levitate in the air above golden hover pads, while Knaus can crawl through small tunnels and burrow underground on soft earth. Miss Teri can use her scarf to whip around wooden poles to cross chasms and hypnotise enemies to temporarily do her bidding, and Lord Clonington, as can be expected, brings the muscle and can scale walls. There are more skills that each character gains access to as you progress, but, well, I have to leave some surprises for you to discover for yourself.
It won’t be a surprise that you will come to rely on all of these skills to overcome the puzzles, enemies, and bosses that you come face-to-face with on your travels. Whether it be in the dark, underground caverns, long forgotten temples, grassy plains, or frozen tundras that you explore, the way that you must switch between characters to uncover secrets or retrieve the keys necessary to open doors to proceed can at times feel reminiscent of juggling the character roles in, say, the LEGO games. World to the West takes that much further with its four-strong cast, of course, and then there’s the fact that you can only play solo – buddying up having always been preferable, although clearly harder to implement this time around given how some skills work.
I would say that the experience can suffer for that, though. There’s a lot of trekking back and forth in places which comes with the territory, with trial and error leading you to learn from your mistakes to understand the puzzles that litter the game. With their designs not always firing on all cylinders, this leads to some uneven moments that can detract from your enthusiasm for what is otherwise a wondrous world to explore and become a part of.
On that note, while it is the prophecy that binds the four characters that will drive much of your intrigue with World to the West, it’s also worth mentioning how well each of your companions have been characterised. To follow on from a wordless game to one whose characters effortlessly carry their own personality is a marvel, and not only helps you care more for their wellbeing but a smile or chuckle is never far off thanks to their humour-laden interactions.
If you’re the type that allows yourself to become lost in the sense of adventure, then you really can’t go wrong with World to the West. There is some laborious puzzle design that leads to inconsistent pacing, but such moments never derail the experience enough – leaving you to become lost in the world’s charm, the witty repartee between its characters, and the story that it wants to tell.