Review – Boreal Tales
With the gaming industry ever growing, more and more smaller developers are coming out of the woodwork to bring us their attempts at making something noteworthy. Sometimes they far exceed your expectations, as was the case with Someday You’ll Return, Outer Wilds, and Baba Is You. Other times, you get a broken or underwhelming game, like Life of Black Tiger, Little Adventure on the Praire, or Flowers are Dead. Boreal Tales from Snot Bubbles Productions, unfortunately falls into the latter category.
In Boreal Tales, you play as Bree, a young girl in a small town slowly being torn apart by a strange illness, corporate greed, and the sudden appearance of bizarre blocks seemingly comprised of static energy. Her sister, Sarah, disappeared a while back when the blocks first showed up, after she conducted a dark ritual that went awry. I know this all sounds a bit confusing, but trust me, it only gets more bewildering.
Don’t get me wrong, I love quirky and twisted games, but hardly anything in here makes any sort of sense, so it’s difficult to become too invested in the narrative or characters. It honestly seems like the premise is weird just for the sake of being weird. And this is coming from someone who really enjoyed her time playing YIIK: A Postmodern RPG.
Many of the design choices in Boreal Tales are just strange. The art style is retro-inspired, like something found in the PS1 era. This is one style of graphic design that has not aged well. Instead of the charm of 16-bit sprites that are small, but still clear, we have large muddied pixels that constantly shift as you move, making much of what’s onscreen difficult to see. That’s not even accounting for the numerous resolution issues that pop up throughout the game.
It also features a fixed camera angle style, much like the games from that time. There’s a reason people no longer rely on that style though. The problem with fixed camera angles is that the direction needed to move your character from one screen to the next changes. This sudden shift often results in you immediately returning back to the previous screen. This makes navigating each area an insufferable chore and takes away any enjoyment from the experience.
Then there’s the sound design. It also draws inspiration from the PS1 era, with sound effects being a blend of prerecorded real-life audio, as well as highly synthesized noises peppered throughout. The soundtrack fits the bizarre and foreboding tone well, even if it’s nothing terribly memorable. Surprisingly, the limited amounts of voice acting are fairly decent, especially from the actress portraying Bree.
Boreal Tales is told through nonlinear levels, which can be fun if done properly. In this game however, there’s no warning as to when you’re going to jump from one section of the narrative to another, nor is there any consistency to it. The game does tell you that when you interact with something that is highlighted in red, that will lead to a change in the scene. However, sometimes you’ll move the next area still controlling the same character as you were when you left the previous section, while other times you’ll move to a completely new location and suddenly be controlling someone you’ve never seen before. It’s often quite jarring and gives the game a messy and disjointed feel.
The idea behind Boreal Tales is to give the player a sense of confusion, much like what the townsfolk are experiencing themselves. I assume the goal is to have the player take on the roles of several different people within the town to understand how they’re all being affected by this anomaly. Then near the end, the separate paths will converge to show the whole picture, much like in a Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie film. The problem is, you’re never given enough time with any of the characters to become invested in their stories. You just quickly jump from one person to another with only just enough time to possibly learn their name before your flung into the next segment.
I say “assume” when speaking about how the game might be intended to play out, strictly because I haven’t finished it. Not out of lack of desire or dedication to the journey, I simply mean that I am unable to see it through to the end due to it being rife with bugs. I got the game early for reviewing purposes and encountered two separate game-breaking bugs that required me to start over from the beginning. I then decided to wait until it officially launched to see if perhaps a launch day patch would fix the issues I was having.
The day came and there was an announcement of a patch that would indeed solve some of the problems players were experiencing. So I tried again, only to encounter two more game-breaking bugs on my next couple attempts. I have now tried playing this game four times from the beginning and have yet to finish it once. I haven’t had to throw in the towel before finishing a game since Blacksad: Under the Skin, and it’s really aggravating.
On the whole, I was disappointed by Boreal Tales. There might have been some potential for an interesting game in here, but that’s all buried beneath strange design choices, frustrating controls, an overly convoluted story, and a myriad of bugs. I can’t imagine it would be worth your time, even if the bugs were fixed. It’s only $2.99 on Steam, so it’s not going to break the bank if you want to give it a try, perhaps just wait a little while until more of the kinks have been ironed out.
Retro-inspired pixelated graphics reminiscent of the PS1 era. Major resolution issues crop up randomly.
An old school adventure style psychological horror game, with nonlinear level designs that are more frustrating than original. Fixed camera angles lead to maddening directional changes when moving from screen to screen.
The music is alright, but nothing particularly memorable. The retro sound effects are nostalgic for about five minutes before they become obnoxious. The limited voice acting is surprisingly decent.
Boreal Tales wants to be clever, with a dark mystery to be solved through non linear storytelling. Unfortunately, it falls flat in its execution. In its current state it’s so rife with bugs that it’s completely unplayable.
Final Verdict: 2.0
Boreal Tales is available now on PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Boreal Tales was provided by the publisher.