Nihilumbra Review

As in life, you start Nihilumbra as a shapeless blob. But instead of being in a womb, you’re in the Void, a place of darkness and decay. It’s not the most inviting environment, but hey, it’s home! You soon decide that it’s time to strike out on your own, so you morph yourself into a human form and wander away. But the void is a jealous thing that would rather see you die than leave, so it follows you out into the world, always nipping at your heels.

Nihilumbra is a remarkable game on many levels, but perhaps what’s most impressive is how fun it manages to be despite its dark themes. This is a morose, brooding game that might have sprung from the mind of Camus, Sartre, or some other depressive existentialist. That the developers have made the gameplay experience so delightful is a real achievement.

Just use some of the ol’ elbow grease.

The gameplay is very much of the puzzle/platforming variety, and it reminds us of excellent titles like Limbo and Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. Your range of motion might seem limited, because the only buttons you have are to move left, right, and jump. But each level contains a power to add to your arsenal that you can call on any time. These powers are used by swiping your finger across the ground, walls, or ceiling, which coats them with a color. Blue, which you find in the ice level, lets you speed up as you walk across it. Green, found in the forest level, lets you bounce, while sand lets you sneak or stick to walls.

If these powers remind you of the goop in Portal 2, you have the right idea. Each level is effectively a series of puzzles that you have to figure out which powers to use where in order to pass. And these aren’t dumb, amateur puzzles, either. They’re all smart, clever puzzles that are fun to solve, like how to press an out-of-reach switch or how to get past a vicious monster.

Yep, you’ll find enemies in Nihilumbra, and lots of them. The void isn’t just some dark, formless, churning mass–it also spits out a wide range of enemies that you’ll encounter along the way. Some bound after you the moment they see you, or shoot projectiles at you, or even erase the colors you set down. The enemies are tough, but figuring out how to get past them is all part of the fun.

Looks like someone forgot to take their Zoloft.

All this fun might make you forget about the dark nature of the game if not for the story, which is told through text that appears in the game’s background. As you walk through the gorgeously rendered levels (and the graphics can be downright breathtaking), text appears that seems to be an inner monologue of your silhouetted character. Since the Void is following you, destroying everything in its path, the hero feels responsible for the destruction, but he also needs to get away. He’s a conflicted dude, and that conflict comes through as philosophical musings that never stop throughout the entire game.

We found the text to be heavy-handed at times, where perhaps a little subtlety would have served the story better. But if you’re not into the story, you can keep moving along, ignoring the text that appears. The game is also full of loading screens that interrupt the action, but a little patience goes a long way.

All told, Nihilumbra is an exquisite game that’s full of surprises. You might find the regular levels a little on the easy side, but if you like surprises and challenge, just wait till you beat the game. We couldn’t stop playing Nihilumbra once we started, and can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a terrific game, with fun platforming, smart puzzles, and a heavy dose of philosophical questioning. If you’re into any one of those things, Nihilumbra is a certified Must Have.

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