'Ooh!', you might think, on first loading Tenebra. 'A roguelike! Like Out of the Shadows or, uh, Rogue!' But you'd be wrong.
Alone in the Dark
Much like previously-reviewed Donum isn't actually a text adventure, this isn't a roguelike at all. Yes, you have to explore some caverns in the dark by torchlight, and yes, those are static character-sized graphics, and yes you'll move one square at a time. There the similarities end. What this is, instead, is a simple puzzler where you have to use your limited torchlight to find your way out of each level. Each screen has an exit somewhere, and an increasingly circuitous route to get to it.
You can't step into any dark squares ( YOU COWARD! ), and there are doors that you can't pass through while holding a torch. There are braziers to help illuminate your way, some of them on tracks so you can push them around. Some of the tracks are busted, so you'll need to find a hammer to fix them. And some doors are locked so you'll need a key. And some doors are one-use only, and so on.
And that's about it.
There's the exit, look, just 2 squares away. Difficult? Nah, this'll be a walk in the dark.
Traditionally, dungeons in games are packed with toothy enemies and spiked traps and rockfalls, but there are no such dangers here - it's just a chill time, with nothing to threaten you other than getting yourself stuck. Dropped your torch in the wrong place and need to start over? Press R to restart the level. You can restart as many times as you like, and each level has a password so you can skip straight to where you left off, assuming you wrote it down somewhere.
It's simple then, but there's nothing wrong with that. The levels aren't even especially difficult, just tricky enough that you'll need to give it your full attention to puzzle out the correct path through each room. It has a plain yet classic monochrome look, utilitarian and free of distraction, bar an atmospheric flickering from your torch. Filling out the shadows with scattered pools of light is tangibly satisfying, as is the of solving each little puzzle - I took to playing one level per day as a 5-minute palate cleanser, like solving the daily Wordle.
Which, sadly brings up the only real disappointment here - it's too short. With just 31 levels, it was over and done just as I was getting settled in. A shame, but 'not enough' is maybe the kindest criticism to give a game. As it is, all I can do is dream of a sequel.1
You can snag it at https://h4plo.itch.io/tenebra, on a pay-what-you-want basis. Commodore 64, Plus4 and Spectrum versions are available - I played it on the Speccy, as that just launched this month, but the experience is largely the same across the formats.
1In what can only be described as a Christmas miracle, my dream has in fact come true - and came true a good month before I dreamt it. Thanks, Santa! https://h4plo.itch.io/tenebra-2 is available for the Commodore machines, featuring 35 levels.