There is a certain charm to “Retro Games” or older games that some people may love and adore while others may not understand it at all. For many people that enjoy games but that are older than me, it’s a source for nostalgia and happiness. For me, as a “Zoomer”, it’s like a travel through the times and it lets me catch up on great games that left fond memories with a lot of people and I like that about the retro “genre”. Some titles may not have aged well due to their language, graphics or game design choices but others still enable people nowadays to have fun… and Retro Games inspire a lot of newer games as well, such as today’s game: Boreal Tenebrae (formerly known as Boreal Tales). At this point, I may have to put in a small disclaimer: I’ll call this title Boreal Tenebrae from now on in the review but essentially the game was initially called Boreal Tales before the developer was contacted by another developer who held the trademark for “Boreal Tales” on a series of educational games. Hence, the name got quickly rebranded/renamed to “Boreal Tenebrae”, just in case you’re confused about this.
Developer: Snot Bubbles Productions Publisher: Snot Bubbles Productions Genre: Adventure, Indie, Horror, Mystery, Retro, Fantasy, Puzzle Release Date: May 19th, 2020 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC Copy was sent by the developer.
Boreal Tenebrae is a retro-style adventure with fantasy, mystery and horror elements to it. Take control of Bree, a young girl investigating the disappearance of her sister, Sarah, in this small town that is dying from a strange illness, corporal greed, and ominous Boreal Blocks that are somehow tied to the static and weird cassette tapes. The story is rather bizarre and strange and at times I was wondering where all of this was going… but eventually, as you look through different characters’ lenses all of the different stories merge into one plotline and… it kind of makes sense all of a sudden.
From the get-go, I noticed how much Boreal Tenebrae was inspired by “retro games” or rather PS1 era games. The game features a fixed camera angle and sound design that could probably best be described as a blend of real-life audio, synthesized noises, static, tunes, and some voice lines. It’s interesting and very bizarre in a way but I feel like the sound effects and the soundtrack, though not all that memorable, fit the ominous and strange tone of the story quite well. All of this is paired with an art style that is rather stylized and crude in the cutscenes and rather messy in the actual game. I say “messy” because I found it somewhat hard to navigate through some of the environments with the fixed camera angle and the sudden changes in colours, brightness and textures. I mean, the game is about a “static” that comes from old TVs and other machines. The Boreal Blocks are tied to static, seemingly, so the grainy textures and the quality that is degrading at times is fitting… but it can make the game frustrating on the eyes and annoying at times. And well, the aforementioned fixed camera angle can also make your life harder since the angle can change dramatically as you move to new areas, causing you to suddenly move into the previous area. Don’t get me wrong, I like the game, it just sometimes led to a few rather frustrating moments, especially in the beginning.
Despite some of these issues, I find the stylised presentation rather befitting of this strange game. It got me hooked. It’s “new”, despite being inspired by rather old games, and it is unique in a way. The voice acting is great at times and I found the character design particularly interesting from time to time.
The gameplay mostly consists of “puzzles” where you need to solve situations by acquiring items and combining them into your inventory. You also receive a camera along the way that allows you to capture sigils in specific spots that give you more memories and background lore, I guess? I have yet to piece all of it together but it’s interesting. When you go to new areas, you may change scenes completely and end up playing a new character in this weird town. You may switch from Bree to Sarah to a ghost even or a factory worker, which is interesting, as it gives you different perspectives into the story. This allows you to experience the plot non-linearly, which is something I fancy, especially in shows and movies like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. The main issue with this, however, is that the game can feel a bit incohesive at times thanks to missing exposition or cutscenes that may introduce these new characters better than the “Suddenly you’re this character” approach. The characters seem to be tied to certain areas and Bree is kind of connecting the dots but you, as the player, make the choice of where to go next. There is a big map with different spots that you have yet to unlock by finding the appropriate DVD tape. At the same time, you can “solve” areas and get one step closer to the truth that way… and items you acquire are available to everyone thanks to a shared inventory system, which is a great quality of life feature.
But even if the premise, the art and the soundtrack are interesting, there certainly are a lot of issues with Boreal Tenebrae. For starters, there are game-breaking bugs that still get patched every once in a while. This is an Indie Game, so of course, all of this takes longer. Hence, I’d recommend saving frequently on different save files to ensure that you don’t encounter any of those and have to restart everything again. The bigger issue, in my opinion, is the resolution of the game. True to its ideal and the “Retro” aspect, you cannot simply change the resolution to 1920x1080p or something like that but are limited in your settings. One resolution apparently works best but I had to try out other options to get the best experience. The main issue is that the game either looks weird at times or that text boxes can be cut off sometimes if the resolution isn’t set up well. The game makes this somewhat hard for you as time goes on, so basically, just find a pile of newspapers in the first part of the game and read the text box. If a word is cut off, change the resolution until it’s fixed because… it’s a lifesaver once you do that.
Is Boreal Tenebrae a great game? Well,… it’s hard to say that. While it can be frustrating at times and while there are bugs with the game, I enjoyed it so far and have been quite invested in the story now. There is a certain charm to it and it’s a very unique experience overall. I’d recommend this game to you if you’re willing to try out something strange and interesting. I may find it underpriced on Steam (currently it costs 2.39€), so I recommend this to you. It’s a good game. Maybe not great due to the resolution issues but certainly not bad and definitely quite intriguing!