The Shmup genre is one that was quite popular in the halcyon days of pre-3D gaming, but it seems that the addition of the extra dimension largely rendered this style of gaming obsolete. Nowadays you may see new entries every now and then, but it seems that many are simple games designed for smart devices, or are otherwise too reliant upon tired tropes that have appeared in countless other shmups. Unfortunately, Teslapunk falls into this category; it plays just fine and is a good bit of fun, but there's very little here that you haven't seen before.
The story is silly and inconsequential, but it's not really the focus here. You take control of the famous inventor, Nikola Tesla, and must pilot a gunship to fight off wave after wave of Martian invaders sent by the evil Emperor Zangorax (who also happens to be a DJ on Mars). You have two guns, one peashooter with a wide spread that allows full range of motion while firing, and a massive, high-damage laser that considerably slows the ship down. Killing enemies slowly fills up a Voltage Meter that lets you utilize an even more powerful (and temporary) laser, which also has the added benefit of clearing the screen of all bullets and adding them to your score multiplier.
There are two main modes here: Arcade and Survival. Arcade is your standard story mode, featuring six levels which get progressively harder and feature difficult boss encounters at a few points in each level. This is where the meat of the game lies, as it is just as challenging as you'd expect from this genre, regardless of difficulty level. Dodging between thousands of lasers while managing your Voltage Meter and firing back can be great fun, and it certainly requires constant focus. There's also a selection of missions — passive goals to work towards, such as killing X amount of enemies — that add a decent amount of replayability and variety to gameplay styles.
The Survival mode is a little less interesting, playing like a bizarre cross of an endless runner and a shmup. You move your ship along the x axis and fire at enemies which come rushing at you, but here they drop coins. When you inevitably die, these coins can be spent at a shop where you can bolster your ship's offensive and defensive capabilities to survive for a bit longer on the next run. It's not that this is a bad idea, but it could definitely be executed better. While it starts off as a fairly addictive experience, it ultimately amounts to hitting soft bottlenecks where it's virtually impossible to progress, upgrading your ship slightly, and doing it all again to make it just a bit further. As you upgrade your ship the gap between the start point and the point where you last died continues to widen, and it becomes less and less rewarding to keep at the grind.
Both of these modes do manage to offer a good deal of enjoyment between the two of them, but they never surmount the larger issue looming over this game: its ultimate lack of originality. In the game's defense, this is something that applies to some other titles in the genre over the past generation, but we couldn't shake the feeling that we'd played this game before a dozen times. It's the same exact gameplay of dodging bullets and chipping away at enemies as you've seen numerous times before, and while that's not necessarily a negative, it would've been nice to have seen something that dared to do something new or different with the tried and true shmup template.
The presentation is unfortunately below par, as this is a game that's rather ugly to look at and listen to. The soundtrack features a strange menagerie of space sounding synths throughout its tracks, which all begin to sound the same as time passes. Eventually, it just becomes a tiresome nuisance, and it wasn't long before we found ourselves playing the game while muted. Enemies and environments have a blurry, unfinished look about them, and generally stick to monochromatic themes. We lost count of how many gunmetal gray alien ships we blew up, and after a while some extra artistic flair would have been greatly appreciated. It all comes off as being something of an afterthought, and while it could certainly be argued that tight gameplay is the first priority in games of this ilk, presentation should be a bit more interesting than what there is to see here.
All told, Teslapunk is a very middling game. It has tight enough controls and fun shmup gameplay that has the potential to entertain for hours, but there's a lingering sense that this is a game too content to ride on the coattails of its superior predecessors, and it does so at the cost of forging its own identity. What we're left with is a game that's perfectly functional, but forgettable in nearly every way. If you really like shmup games and want to own a new one for the Wii U in particular, this may be worth a punt, but we'd otherwise recommend you take a pass.