*DISCLAIMER: ALL VIEWS IN THIS REVIEW ARE MY OWN AND DO NOT COME FROM THE COMPANY THAT HAS KINDLY PROVIDED THE GAME*
In this game you, "Discover the beautiful world of Nihilumbra and join Born on his adventure to find himself whilst trying to escape from his inevitable curse. Born was created from the absolute nothingness: The Void. But somehow he separates himself from the black emptiness and appears in the world. This is where his long odyssey begins, in which he will learn how to use the colors around him to gain powerful abilities and transform the world. However, his experiences come at a high price. The Void must be one. It seeks to reclaim him and will never stop chasing him, destroying everything in its path along the way. To survive, Born will have to condemn the earth he walks to its inevitable obliteration by The Void..." - eShop Page
Nihilumbra is a puzzle platformer, developed and published by BeautiFun Games. It has been released on multiple platforms, starting on June 27th with iOS, which led to PC, Mac, PS Vita, Wii U, and Android. On May 3rd, 2018, it will be released onto its newest platform: the Nintendo Switch. On the main website for the game, it appears that the team behind Nihilumbra has been recognised several times since its first release, winning awards such as “Hidden Gems” in the App Store Best of 2012. There are a few other awards listed as well, though none of the listed awards are clickable links, so I do not know the credibility of these. The site also displays a section of “Critical Reception”, listing several quotes and scores given by various gaming websites. These scores are all 4/4, 4.5/5, or above. When looking through several sources of my own, I found that most sites did not list the game as a perfect score, though it did seem to do fairly well. It currently holds an 89% on Steam, and ranges between a 75 and an 86 on Metacritic, depending on the platform of release.
I first became interested in Nihilumbra just based on the title alone. I have a soft spot for anything relating to the Latin language, especially when used for the names of titles. The game’s name is a combination of two words: “Nihil” and “umbra”. Umbra can be translated to mean “shadow, ghost, or shade”, though I would venture to translate it as the embodiment of The Void itself. “Nihil” is most times translated to mean “Nothing”, though in respect to the game, I believe “Non-entity” may be a more fitting translation of the word. I have come to associate the term with Born, the main character. In the story discussion, you just might understand why “Nihil” fits him so well.
“You are Born. What are you? You shouldn’t be alive.”
Born comes into existence, barely more than a blob of goo. He slowly travels The Void, trying to understand his purpose on this plane. He finds that he is small and insignificant in this place, but he continues his journey forward. But The Voice calls out to him with each new step on his journey.
“Where are you going? Nothing can forsake The Void.”
Born ignores the calling from The Voice. It cannot stop him. It will not stop his journey forward. He must come to understand why he has been created. He will not be contained in The Void. He will escape to The World. He will find a reason for his existence. The Voice calls out to him again, this time in warning:
“You left The Void behind but it is coming to get you.”
Born does not fear The Voice or The Void. He embarks on his journey forward, learning to not only change himself, but also influence the world around him. He will find his purpose; he will escape The Void. No matter how far he travels, however, The Voice still calls to him:
“You are nothing in this world.”
The story is not the most spectacular one I have experienced, that’s for sure. However, it is also a puzzle platformer, which is a genre where a player does not usually experience deep, captivating stories. I give the devs points here for creating a unique story within the confines of the genre, however short the story may have been. I personally did not feel a deep connection to Born, though by the end, I did sort of want The Voice to hush his mouth. If that meant getting to the end to prove him wrong about Born being nothing but a useless piece of Void, so be it.
You take control of Born, the one and only playable character in Nihilumbra. The game is a very simple platformer, mainly consisting of left to right and back movements from one panel to the next. Once you have left The Void, which serves as just a short tutorial introducing what buttons give the player control of Born, you will find yourself in The World. The World has been broken down into five different areas: Frozen Cliffs, Living Forest, Ash Desert, Volcano, and The City. Each one of these Worlds presents a different mechanic that Born must learn in order to progress. These mechanics are presented in the form of “Colours”. For example, in the Frozen Cliffs, Born finds the first of the five Colour flowers, enabling him to paint the World in the Colour Blue. Using the touchscreen, the player will be able to paint different surfaces in the World with each new Colour that Born collects. Blue creates slippery surfaces, allowing Born to use speed to avoid and trick enemies. Green creates bouncy surfaces, allowing new heights and opportunities for Born on his travels. Brown allows surfaces to become sticky, creating new pathways and silencing Born’s movements in tricky times. Red creates fire along surfaces, allowing Born to fight back against The Void creatures for the first time. Yellow is electricity, a life left over in the final section of The World, which is The City, that has been forgotten by something that came before Born. Finally, there is Purple, which has been with Born since The Void. It allows the player to erase previous mistakes without having to find a checkpoint (which also collects the previous Colours used and returns them to Born). The player has the ability to access all Colours that Born has collected by tapping the Colour tree in the top right corner of the touchscreen. Each Colour has its own bubble, which represents how much Colour is left of each type that the player can use before the next checkpoint. Each Colour is only available in a limited amount, which can add to the difficulty of the current level. I found that I would be very close to the solution in a level, but then I would need to backtrack to delete some of the Colours I had used too carelessly.
Each new section presents Born with new obstacles and enemies that he must learn to avoid, destroy, or influence using each of the Colours. The game focuses heavily on puzzle mechanics, some of which can be incredibly difficult to properly decipher. Some require precise timing and accurate manoeuvres, while others take more time and wit to crack. But each new section of The World builds on the previous one, which needs to be remembered. Many difficult puzzles I faced were mainly difficult because I was trying to solve them using just the newest Colour. Sometimes a much simpler solution is present, but it requires a previous Colour to achieve.
Once the story is completed, the player may go back through The World, in Void mode. This is an increased difficulty version of The World. The player begins back at the first level of the Frozen Cliffs, but there are Void creatures that did not exist until much later in the game during the initial run. The player also has access to all six Colours from the beginning of the Void mode run. This is where the difficulty level definitely spikes, as some of the levels require pinpoint accuracy to continue. It can be incredibly frustrating, but the reward in the end is worth it.
The game feels very polished and the minimalistic art style is well done. The voice over used by The Voice gives the game just the right amount of ambience that the game really benefits from. It feels like it contains just the right amount of text, while still creating a very minimalistic experience.
The game ran wonderfully. I never experienced any sort of stuttering, game crashes, or anything else that has plagued some of the Indie titles lately on the Switch.
The main complaint that I have, and this could totally be a user error on my end, but I really don’t believe that it is, is that the game did not allow for docked controls. I began the game in handheld mode, which is the optimal playstyle for this game, to be completely honest. It is so easy to quickly scribble down some Colour with your fingertip, while still controlling Born with the joysticks and action buttons. But when I wished to play on my T.V. using the dock, none of the controls would allow me to lay down Colour. I was also unable to change Colours. I spent around 20 minutes trying every button combo I could think of, as well as restarting the game, just in case switching between two modes was the issue, but I found no solution, other than playing solely in handheld mode. For some players, this could be a deal breaker. If I can find evidence of docked mode being supported, either through trial and error or through other sources, I will definitely update.
I rarely play my games with the sound on, as I like to play mainly in handheld situations that do not allow me to use the speakers. I have grown used to not usually carrying headphones on me as well, so many times the audio of a game goes unnoticed by me.
But I am so happy that I broke habit with this title! The minimal art style is perfectly accompanied by a very simple, but powerful, soundtrack. The Voice is also so much more potent when heard through the voiceover, versus just reading the text on screen, both of which happen simultaneously. While the game would have still been enjoyable if played without the audio, I really believe that this is one game where the music really completes the experience.
Overall, I really enjoyed the game. The gameplay is solid, excluding docked mode, the music and art are great, and The Voice lends a simple, yet powerful storytelling element to an otherwise simple platformer.
The length of the main story isn’t very long at all, just having about 7 or 8 levels for each of the 5 sub-worlds. But where the game makes up for that is in the Void Mode, which is unlocked after beating the main campaign. These levels are much harder and can take multiple tries before the player is able to master the split second mechanics that are needed to progress. The levels can also lend themselves to a player who sets new rules for themselves, such as beating each Void level without dying. This can greatly extend the playtime for any potential player. There are also achievements that will unlock as the player progresses. I had unlocked about 40% before starting Void Mode, so these achievements will also help add some extra gameplay to go back for.
The main complaint I have is in the use of The Voice. It constantly follows Born, telling him about the new mechanics of each Colour and region. But beyond that, The Voice is cold and almost overwhelmingly harsh as he speaks to Born. The Voice is near constantly telling Born that he is nothing; he should stop running, as there is no escaping The Void. I am guessing that this was the intent the creators wanted, as it may help some players to feel connected to Born, wanting to push forward and prove The Voice wrong, but I really felt a bit grated by it in the end. It almost felt a bit overdone, and just a bit too harsh. But that’s just my take on it. Some may find it to be just the right tone for the game.
|Platforms:||PC | Switch | IOS | Android | Vita | Wii U|
|Price:||£5.99 | €6.99 | $7.99|
|Story Completion Time:||3 Hours|
|100% Completion Time:||12 Hours|
|Interesting gameplay mechanics.||No docked mode, but will update if this changes|
|Beautifully minimal art style, paired well with perfect soundtrack.||Some small sound effects can be a bit annoying when stuck on a difficult level.|
|Plenty of replay through Void mode.||The story, told by The Voice, can seem a bit harsh.|
|Arbitrary Final Score|
Review by Bonnie
Nihilumbra is available now for PC, Mac, Mobile, and Nintendo Switch for, £5.99/$7.99. Thank you to BeautiFun Games for supplying the game and assets used in this review. Be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.