As far as gaming goes, I am nowhere close to Eric in terms of experience. I prefer casual games, but I enjoy puzzles and platformers every now and then. Today, I am going to review an app that is actually a hybrid of the latter two genres.
A Dark World
Nihilumbra is a side-scrolling puzzle/platformer that, at first glance, reminded me of Limbo because of its dark, moody settings. However, fifteen minutes into the game, I realize that Nihilumbra is a unique game with a slightly more complex game mechanic.
The game starts with a blob named Born who one day decides to break away from the dark and empty Void that he lives in. Taking the form of a silhouette, Born goes out to explore the world but soon realizes that danger follows closely behind him.
Enraged with Born’s leaving, the Void sends out terrible creatures to bring him back. Born tries to escape his relentless pursuer with movements that are limited to moving left or right and jumping.
Thankfully, he earns the gift of colors to help him survive. Each color has a unique property that can be activated when applied to a surface, for example blue makes surfaces slippery, brown makes them sticky, while green makes them bouncy and perfect for jumping on. Colors are unlocked one at a time whenever Born successfully escapes from a world.
Nihilumbra has five worlds (and subsequently, five colors) in total, with each world consisting of eight levels. The levels themselves are like series of puzzles where you try to figure out how to move pass obstacles and monsters using the colors that you have to get to the other side.
To guide you along the way, an unseen narrator follows you throughout the game and provides tutorials and other commentaries in big, bold text as you meet new elements or monsters. The narrator does not actually have a voiceover — it only appears in text — but it bombards you with grim questions such as “What’s the point of living when you are going to die in the end?”.
It is worth noting that the game gets trickier as you progress further. As you collect more colors, you will also learn to combine them to effectively clear out any unwanted obstacles. For example, to get to a high cliff, you must first stick to a wall by coloring it brown before diving onto a green surface so that you can jump higher. The monsters also increase in numbers and variety, and in latter levels, you will find tougher creatures that you cannot kill using regular methods.
Once you have successfully cleared all the worlds in the game, you can unlock the completely optional Void mode which extends Born’s story (an epilogue, if you will) and offers a notably steeper difficulty level — perfect for hardcore gamers who find the regular mode too easy. It also provides several extra hours of gameplay.
How to Play
Game control in Nihilumbra is fairly intuitive. Using virtual buttons or by tilting the device, you control Born's movements on screen. Colors are controlled using touch; to pick a color, simply tap on the color picker on the top right and choose the one that you want. Once you have chosen a color, you can paint a surface by smudging it.
For a clearer picture on how you play the game, here is an official trailer from the developers of Nihilumbra:
Things I Like
Nihilumbra is a surprisingly delightful game albeit its dark, brooding nature. The story is an integral element in the game and you can see it from the way the passages on screen continuously follow you to create a cinematic experience. Morose as it is, the plot is developed well and concluded nicely with a thoughtful message satisfyingly delivered at the end.
In addition to a solid storyline, the game also has unique mechanics. It is a hybrid between a platformer and a puzzle game that employs touch controls. I like how you are given a set of skills that you can use alone or in combination for surviving the game.
I think the game is cleverly designed to cater to both casual and hardcore gamers without disrupting the game's balance. The "regular" levels, for instance, can be completed in about six hours but if you want more challenge, the Void mode is free to play.
I also have to mention the beautiful, immersive environment of the game. The hand painted background is lovely and makes the app unique. The original soundtrack, composed by Álvaro Lafuente, complements the moody setting nicely.
One thing that I would suggest to improve is the game controls. The two-tap requirement for selecting a new color feels clumsy, especially in levels where you need to be quick. Being a naturally awkward person, I died many times because I struggled with the color picker. But other than this problem, I had a great run with the game and would not mind playing it again.
Nihilumbra is a deliciously dark platformer/puzzle game that has all the winning elements: a developed plot, unique game mechanics, a balanced difficulty level and immersive audiovisuals. The dark/philosophical theme may turn off some people but gamers who are willing to look past that will be rewarded greatly. Do get it now if you haven't.