Indie games have become almost guinea pigs in the gaming industry. Once focusing on concepts tried and tested such as platforming games and the like, independent developers of today are taking much more risk than former indie devs used to take, often coming up with a new mechanic or gameplay feature which steals the show for that particular game’s audience. Nihilumbra is one of these games which, thanks to its own particular mechanic, seeks to entice players into its darkness.
Developed by Beautifun Games, Nihilumbra was originally a game made for iOS, but probably upon realizing the potential it had was ported to PC, with almost no signs that the game has been ported except the fact that external controllers do not work with the game, personally having to learn that the hard way. Nihilumbra stars Born, a blob who decides to escape from the nothingness of The Void, probably being fed up of the same visuals all the time. Born is chased by this Void, both physically and mentally. This is because in parts of the game the void literally chases Born and you have to use your skills in order to survive. The mental chasing is done through a narrator, which apart from reading out the story to players, on several occasions attacks Born directly with statements such as “you are nothing” and the like. It sets the scene for a dark tale, one which surely does not evoke happiness. The sadness in Nihilumbra is a peaceful one though, living inside Born himself. It is manifested onto the outside world through the relatively plain environments which keep him as the main character, but at the same time instil a feeling of gloom into the atmosphere which for the duration of the playing session is very difficult to shake off. After all, the name translated literally means “shadow of nothing.”
Nihilumbra features a very interesting mechanic, one which the game revolves around. Born earns powers along the game, powers which reside in painting. Different colours have different power, and as such make up the main element in solving the puzzles of the game. Colours can be swapped at any time from a selection on the top right of the screen, which provides a sort of palette with all the currently unlocked colours available to choose from. Blue, for example, makes the ground ice, and is useful in times where you need a speed boost, or when you need to make enemies slip and fall down a pit. On the other hand, Red sets the ground on fire, useful to burn enemies in the way. The crux of the game is mastering the applications of these colours and using them in your quest to escape from the void, once and for all. During his journey, players may empathize with Born because of his emotional detachment from the world.
This sense of sadness is closely reminiscent of the general feeling in Limbo, except in the latter game the protagonist probably captures more the player because of the fact that he is just a little boy looking for his sister, while here we have essentially someone who we do not even know why we are helping. Nihilumbra therefore uses the atmosphere in the game as an asset, and the narration provides further impact to the experience.
The story mode of the game is fairly short, clocking in at only around a couple of hours. This would be severely short for a game, even after considering how good it does its job, but the developers have made sure that it would take far more than just two hours to experience the full content of the game. This is because once you beat the game, Void mode is unlocked, which presents the game’s levels in a much more difficult format, and sometimes the levels themselves are reworked. This will surely be welcome by puzzle elitists who love a challenge, but may turn people away from the game simply because of the spike in difficulty. To be fair, the game ramps up the difficulty quite a lot from the normal story mode, and thus it may induce quite a few rage quits. This is also due to the fact that the game’s normal difficulty is not that difficult, and so there is too much of a gap between this and void mode. For those brave enough, there is a reward at the end of void mode, which hopefully should be worth the extra hours put in. What could be considered as incentive as well is that there are little elements of story in void mode as well, but the main tale will be experienced during the normal mode of the game.
Nihilumbra is one of the few puzzle games which we can safely put above the others, while still below the level of the proper greats of the genre. It uses colours in a very creative way, and its approach to puzzle solving is one which I personally have never seen in a game. That said, it does have its flaws, like the devilishly hard void mode, but as long as no one forces it upon players it is not that big of a problem. The game and the atmosphere create a single package which delivers an experience that, although short, will certainly have an impact on players.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.