If there’s one truly overused genre nowadays, that must be the 2D puzzle platformer. Yeah, we may have those military fps that have such a weight on the industry for usually topping sale charts but, if we really look into it, they only get a few games every year. On the other hand, counting the releases of indie puzzle platformers has become impossible. I just can’t keep track of all of them anymore.
And it’s indeed a shame because it was a genre that once I had a great interest in it but nowadays they sometimes get lost among a see of mediocrity. Even then, I try to play them whenever one of them catches my attention and that was the case with nihilumbra. Let me share you my thoughts on it.
The exoticly named Nihilumbra is a 2D puzzle platformer from the spanish team BeautiFun Games. Because of its use of touch controls, the only playstation platform you could get this on is the playstation vita which is the version I used.
In the game you take control of an enigmatic shapeshifting entity that once escapes from “the void” and then is forced to travel a chromatic world trying to outrun that void as it always tries to catch up to him. I shouldn’t get into more detail than that since I found out that the narrative of the game is quite deep (even philosophical to a degree) and it should better be experienced at your own pace by playing the game yourself.
The mechanics to the game revolve obviously about avoiding obstacles to get to the end of every level like in any other platformer but for that nihilumbra adds a very special ability. Your character will learn a color in each part of the world he visits and then he’ll be able to “paint” the world that color to grant the surfaces certain properties. Like making the floor burning with the red color or bouncy with green.
It’s this mechanic what you’ll be using to solve the puzzles within the game. Sometimes you’ll have to combine different properties to open gates or to fool the enemies. The puzzles themselves aren’t really that hard so I never got stuck for more than a minute in any section of the game but they weren’t too obvious either so nihilumbra would become a boring child’s game.
If you really want to have a challenge though the game provides that as the void mode. A mode unlocked after beating the main story and that represents re-imagined versions of the locales you previously visited. Personally, I found this too frustrating for its own good and too relying on timing instead of just making you use your brain but it adds more meat to the final game and some players out there will probably enjoy the added challenge.
As most will have noticed from the screenshots already, the game has a very distinctive artstyle. That western approach to hand-drawn graphics reminded me of “Dust: An elysian tail” at first but the feeling for the artstyle was quite different in the end. Even though Nihilumbra is colorful, it is so in a more somber way which is really fitting for the theme of the game.
Also I should mention the soundtrack which is the perfect blend of whimsical and eerie depending on the mood that tries to convey. In the sound department it should also be noted the voice of the narrator which also contributes in the best way for the game’s mood and story.
Things I liked
- The art: The hand-drawn style of the graphics and the exotic nature of the enemies stood-out the most to me but the game is appealing not only visually but also in the sound department. Nihilumbra is a pretty game.
- Story: It’s not the kind of tales with convoluted plots and twists but Nihilumbra delivers a deep story full of metaphors about overcoming and self-discovery.
- Length: The game it’s actually on the short side with something like 3 hours for the main game but I found that to be the perfect length for the title. It doesn’t overstays it’s welcome so the main story feels rounded by the time the credits roll. Also, if you really feel like you need more by the time that happens, you can still tackle the difficult “void mode” which will easily more than double your time with the game.
Things I didn’t
- Sometimes unreliable: You apply the colors to the surfaces using the touchscreen and while it mostly works good, sometimes you might leave a single pixel not painted fully and the game will register that barely visible spot completely clean which will punish you when trying to overcome certain puzzles.
- Loadtimes: Considering how very little demanding the game appears to be on a technical level, the loadtimes between each phase feel quite long. One would expect the game to load each stage almost instantly but they’re far from that.
Who’d like this?
I feel like for its story alone this game is well worth experiencing but the gorgeous artstyle and the well implemented puzzles makes that time with the game specially pleasing. It’s not perfect but if you’re a fan of puzzle platformers this one should be a must have and, if you’re new to the genre, this would also be a great game to start on.