Whether it's Holmes outwitting Moriarty or Danger Mouse defeating Baron Von Greenback, most of us have had an adversary or two during our lives. 10tons latest release on Nintendo Switch pits two pioneers of their respective fields against each other in a conflict of literature vs science and pen vs sword in their bizarre, explosive twin-stick shooter, Tesla vs Lovecraft. While the intriguing premise sets up a grandiose battle of wills, knowledge and power, the result is a far more straightforward amalgamation of the developer's previous top-down titles, albeit more accomplished than its previous offerings.
During the exciting yet uncertain time at the turn of the 20th century, legendary horror author turned antagonist H.P. Lovecraft takes a strong dislike to the dangerous experiments being conducted by eccentric inventor Nicolas Tesla. As a noble measure to ensure the safety of the world, Lovecraft steals Tesla's inventions, burns down his workshop and subsequently unleashes a barrage of otherworldly monsters to keep him busy.
Playing as Tesla, you are able to defend yourself by having access to a wide range of electrically-powered weapons to take down the grim beasties from Lovecraft's twisted imagination that crawl, charge and slither towards you from all angles. His most famous of creations, the Cthulhu, are statues within each level that spawn increasingly powerful and grotesque enemies to keep our electrified hero on his toes.
Navigating the world map (along with the three difficulty settings) may seem daunting, but the levels are short, clocking in around a few minutes. On your travels, you'll encounter a varied yet dark set of locations including parks, the cobbled streets and graveyards of Arkham along with mountains and forests that mix things up aesthetically. Aside from your sudden vendetta with Lovecraft, your goal is simple. There's a red bar at the top of the screen representing the amount of enemies you have to kill. The number to the right is the enemies in the current wave. The bar depletes, and you go on your merry way. In terms of the arenas themselves, there are a lot of destructible objects such as crates and fences that can be used as cover keep an oncoming attack at bay just long enough for you to plan your next move.
The game does start with a bang visually, offering an impressive array of special effects such as lasers, explosions and electromagnetic pulses, along with the ominous green glow of trippy imagery. Likewise, the soundtrack alternates between grand blaring horns and choir against thumping techno and fuzzy guitars when aboard your mech. It doesn't take long to plateau, however, with droves and droves of monsters, even a hundred or more on the screen at once to grind through before moving on to the next area. Granted, there is a lot more architecture to navigate compared to 10tons' own Crimsonland, but things do tend to become more a war of attrition rather than skill or resource management.
The action can frequently be, and briefly, halted by triggering the perks system with 'Y'. Depending on how many you've accumulated, you'll have the option to choose one from a pair at a time. These include extra bullet damage, increased heath or more speed and can immediately be the difference between success or failure.
When a stage is cleared, you'll earn purple Aether crystals that can be spent on permanent upgrades to your health or randomly generating abilities.
As well as winding through labyrinthine streets to evade enemies or finding enclosed areas that contain weapon upgrades or other goodies, one of Tesla's best tricks is one of teleportation. Starting out with three rechargeable bursts, you'll be able to weave in and out of tight spots to get pick ups or dodge a particularly impenetrable group of enemies. Zipping through walls and across gaps with teleport charges will turn proceedings into a constant game of cat and mouse, until you are able to make inroads by vaporising enemies by going through them with that trusty tap of the 'L' button, or performing other such scientific wizardry.
The other main weapon in Tesla's arsenal is his mini-gun-toting mech suit called the War Pigeon. Once you've reached a certain XP rank, you'll start each level with a limited amount of time in the suit to do as much damage as you can, and when it expires in a glorious cloud of purple smoke and pyrotechnics, you can collect the parts within the level again. This mini-mission within each stage might seem like busy work, but the brief time you have will make you so powerful that its worth the risk, almost to the detriment of striving to reach for a get out of jail free card. Ultimately, though, it's satisfying to backtrack and bottleneck swarms of enemies, only to plow through them in a flash of lightning.
Along with the more extravagant toys, there is also a traditional set of primary weapons on offer such as shotguns and revolvers, and the selection of electrically charged secondary weapons is where Tesla vs Lovecraft is visually impressive. From the giant glowing X-Ray sword and Aether discs (electric frisbees), to the aforementioned mech suit and the frankly awesome nuke. The variety of artillery is worth at least experimenting with, but you'll soon have favourites and even actively avoid certain pick ups, as they might be a downgrade on the weapon you hold.
As well as the main campaign, there is the standard local coop, a nice 'monsterpedia' of all the beasties you slay on your journey, daily challenges and a survival mode which all contribute to making Tesla vs Lovecraft a well fleshed-out package.
Considering the source material, there probably was a lot more potential in terms of story or characterisation but when all is said and done, shooters don't tend to dwell too much on nuance. Tesla vs Lovecraft is a competent top-down, twin-stick shooter and arguably the most polished title in the developer's catalogue. Taking the fun but limited template of Crimsonland and building an entertaining and visually striking, but familiar and repetitive experience. It's unlikely to get pulses racing in terms of original gameplay, however, the perks system, crazy weapons and relentless explosive action should spark enthusiasm among fans of the genre.