Review – Tesla Wars HD for iPad

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Stick figures have long been one of gaming’s “cheap shots,” in that causing bodily harm to them isn’t considered a big deal. Starting with the classic children’s word game “Hangman,” stick figures are one of the only things it’s okay to throw off a cliff, shoot in the chest or dismember without having any repercussions.

After all, stick figures aren’t really people, just generic versions of them.

Sadly, Tesla Wars HD takes this concept too far, resulting in a game that makes me want to wash my hands after playing it.

Tesla Wars HD is a tower-defense game that really takes advantage of the “it’s okay to harm stick figures” mode of gameplay. The object of the game is to defend an electrically powered tower from swarms of attacking stick figures trying to shut it down. They do so in a variety ways, whether it’s beating it with sticks, using machine guns or even attacking with light sabers.

The player uses the iPad’s touchscreen to zap each stick figure over and over again until it explodes in a bloody mess. Each level continues until all the stick figures are dead or have escaped. The player is then awarded money based on how successful the mission was, which is then used to purchase special attacks or upgrades. The special attacks can range from a “kill-all” electric storm to dropping bombs on selected targets.

There are several reasons I did not enjoy this game. The first would be the game’s mechanics. While the controls are simple enough (i.e. put your finger on the iPad and a lightning bolt hits that spot), its execution was flawed. For example, the game tends to change its mind about how intense an attack is. It usually took about two to three lightning bolt hits to subdue a stick figure, which I then assumed was the standard — however, it sometimes took about four or five before an enemy exploded. It had nothing to do with how hard or long I was pressing on the screen, or where my finger was: It seemed to be due to chance, which frustrated me as a player.

The second problem would be in the gameplay itself, which I found far too difficult for the game’s good. Each zap the tower sends out uses up some of its power supply, which reloads very slowly and will not regenerate at the beginning of the next round. Therefore, when a huge crowd of angry stick figures causes the player to zap over and over again, the player is left with little to no power to finish the round or move on to the next time. Every time I reached Round 5 or 6, I was out of power and a multitude of enemies were ready to swarm.

There are upgrades to the power supply, but each one (out of 99) costs $1,000.

There was also a confusion in the game’s Information Architecture that caused repeated problems. When the player pauses gameplay, he or she is taken to a menu where the special attacks can be utilized or upgraded. However, should the player not want or be able to use or upgrade the special attacks, there is no “Resume” button. In fact, the only way to get back to the game is by re-pressing the “pause” button in the upper right-hand corner, which does not seem like the first choice. It took me several times to figure this out, which meant many trips back to the Main Menu because I thought there was a glitch in the IA.

The final, albeit more personal, problem I have with this game would be the blasé way it approaches killing the stick figures. Even though they’re not real people, the way the game shows killing them feels like cruel and unusual punishment — and I’m not just talking about the whole “exploding in a bloody mess” thing.

In the game, zapping each stick figure enough times causes it to start crawling slowly, as if in extreme pain. It will either continue toward the tower or slowly crawl away, effectively fleeing the scene. However, there is a cash bonus for leaving no stick figures alive, called “No Mercy.” Therefore, I had to effectively murder a scared, fleeing stick figure — one that probably had a family and dreams of becoming a Nurse Practitioner. It felt wrong, and did not give me cause to enjoy playing the game at all.

There is an option to turn the red gore into blue, which made it look more like killing Smurfs or aliens than people — but it didn’t make much of a difference for me.

This is not a game I would encourage kids to play; and as an adult, playing it felt wrong. The game’s flaws only serve to enhance the problems it has, which are numerous and hard for me to look past. Also, the music is repetitive and annoying.

While I do find enjoyment in using stick figures as scapegoats for Lemmings-type violence, Tesla Wars HD takes its Lemmings too far over the edge. I say pass on this one.

Here’s an App Store link for Tesla Wars HD; it’s currently free.

Disclosure: A promo code for this game was provided by Synaptic Wave. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.

Beth Elderkin

Beth Elderkin is an award-winning multimedia journalist currently working as a news producer in Austin, Texas. She's been a game reviewer for iPad Insight since 2011, and also runs a gaming blog at

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