Sunday, April 14, 2024

Tenebra



Fear the darkness!

Hearing news of ST games in 2024 is always exciting so it was a nice surprise to discover a puzzler called Tenebra by Ali Pouladi (aka Haplo). It's already available for several computers and we (finally) saw a release for our beloved computer earlier this year. Interestingly. there is a sequel which isn't yet available for the Atari ST. Fingers crossed!

Tenebra may resemble an olde Dungeons & Dragons game but it's a puzzler using roguelike mechanics and aesthetics. As with a typical role-player, we're stranded in a dark place with many strange puzzles to solve, traps to endure, items to use, and even a few secrets. The main task is always simple - discover how to escape through the 31 levels.

Of course, the initial rooms are easy thanks to some brilliant trainer levels that help us master the basics. These help a bunch in learning the game's design and personality. However, it isn't long before Tenebra becomes more complex as new mechanics are revealed during your progress. Yes, this puzzler is one tough cookie so prepare thyself!

Okay, this neat concept gripped me from the start so let's look at the first level. And its solution...



As you can see, I'm standing at the top/left with the exit gate nearby.
Several braziers are lighting areas of the room making it easy to find the exit.


Walk through the lit areas and onto the gate. Job done. Dead easy, right?
When a level is finished, it's fully displayed which helps your understanding of the design.


Gameplay

So, this game is actually dead simple: start each level and figure out how to reach its exit. That's it. However, the darkness is the main problem for our adventurer who won't fumble around pitch-black places. He will only explore the areas illuminated by lamps or when carrying a burning torch. It's straightforward but these mechanics will tax your brain!

Each room features a maze-like design and uses many items and obstacles. Walls, doorways, objects, and dark places block your path. The route through often means exploring the lit areas looking for a torch that you can grab.
In fact, torches are essential. Not all are created equal and some will illuminate quite poorly. If only there was a way to increase the oil so it would burn brighter? Many levels contain multiple torches and you could find yourself leaving a trail to better explore. Take your time and think. Don't rush :-)
The mechanics for each room are constant without being overly complex. But they are crafty, for example, you cannot use a door if carrying a torch, but you can with doors that require a key. Some walls may be damaged - slip through the gap before it crumbles in. Look for braziers mounted on rails as these can be moved assuming the track isn't broken. If only we had a tool to fix that? Yes, the puzzles are simple but require completing in sequence so it pays to stop & think.

I couldn't end without mentioning the timer - there isn't one!! So many puzzlers have an annoying timer which I've never been able to understand. After all, you must stop/think/play carefully, so why rush? I'm relieved there is no time restraint. Heck, even the torches last forever. What a fantastic design and kudos to Haplo for thinking outside the box.

Okay, I'm usually terrible at these kinds of puzzlers but it's a blast playing Tenebra. Hey, it's screenshot time...



Things are getting tough by level 7 and the game throws multiple puzzles at you.
Note how I lit the square sensor (top-left) with a torch? That opens up the exit (mid-right).


Level 10 onwards and this game is a stonker!! Well, it was for me I'm embarrassed to admit!
On the 11th level, dodgy walls will collapse after passing through. There's one to my right...


Aesthetics

Tenebra supports both colour and mono systems: low-res is my personal choice because it looks authentic and transports me back to the 80s, a feeling we oldies love. The graphics are of a basic design, something you would expect a ZX81 to knock out. However, don't let that disappoint because this is perfect for its unmistakable 'roguelike' style. A cool flicker effect can be used for a tad more atmosphere (it's optional and can be toggled on/off anytime by hitting the 'F' key).

As for mono users, the 640x400 display is gorgeous using sharp visuals you expect to see on an SM124/5. Decals and items have been improved with better detail. For example, you can tell that a torch is a torch - yes, I know that sounds silly but it works! There is no flicker effect due to how the monitor works, which is a shame, but understandable.
Yes, I'm a sucker for lower resolution graphics but that's my preference because I'm dead old (as my daughter constantly reminds me). Hey, try both and let know in the comments below which type you prefer.
Audio isn't needed for a puzzler but, there are nominal effects which don't spoil or override your concentration. Best of all is the title screen music. Wow, it's so modern and zesty with a twist of ZX Spectrum (48K-style) thrown in beautifully I thought. Absolutely stunning, so leave it playing in the background while you read through this website!

Hey, should we look at the differences between the low & hi-res games? Good idea so here ya go...



Low resolution looks perfect for an authentic experience that this old rogue appreciates.
Items like the torch are a bit bland but the overall style is something I adore.


As you can see, monochrome is superb. Look at that torch and the fine details for everything.
Weirdly, I don't like the stickman, which looks like something I would have drawn!


CryptO'pinion

When I first heard of Tenebra I initially expected something of a romp through the Land of Eriador (ala DDST - The Adventure Game by William Miller). Alas, those screenshots had deceived me because Tenebra turned out to be very different. Okay, I admit to being disappointed by ... yet another puzzle game as I'm not often a fan and there are loads already.

Anyhow, I think I've been converted because this is such a captivating and unique release. Figuring out a route through the darkness - just to reach the exit - may sound boring. But it most certainly isn't. It's anything but. The difficulty is challenging without being over the top with impossibly complex puzzles. Every room presents the same predictable problem that can only be solved using careful thought. And, best of all, there is no timer to spoil the enjoyment :-)

Weirdly, the rogue-like appearance isn't merely cosmetic because this familiar dungeon style integrates perfectly with the puzzles. Using light and darkness in such a way adds an alternative and interesting depth I didn't expect. Additionally, level codes are an obvious feature often neglected by developers - a simple idea & much needed. Genius!

Tenebra is excellent and I recommend it with great enthusiasm. My overall rating is a mind-boggling 85%

Isn't it brilliant to see new games developed for old computers? You can download Tenebra right now by clicking here. However, please consider spending a few quid as this shows developers that the Atari ST is alive!! The following are the level codes from my game. Here if you want 'em albeit with a spoiler warning...

- LEVEL ACCESS CODES -

1  - 2357
2  - F4D0
3  - D9D3
4  - E45C
5  - F55F
6  - B9D8
7  - 6D5B
8  - B745
9  - A746
10 - DF41
11 - 9742
12 - C6CD
13 - 964F
14 - 8949
15 - C8CB
16 - 0D75
17 - 1FF7
18 - E0F1
19 - C0F2
20 - 2CFD
21 - 75FF
22 - 31F8
23 - 58FA
24 - 78E5
25 - 7D67
26 - DD60
27 - AD62
28 - 4C6C
29 - 8E6E
30 - 8569
31 - 8E6A

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