The very first thing I noticed about Nihilumbra was the name of the studio behind it, BeautiFun. Right away I could see they delivered on the beautiful part, but that raised the more pressing question…was it also fun?
The short answer to that question is “yes”, but this wouldn’t be much of a review if I didn’t expand upon that a little further. Nihilumbra is a 2D side scrolling platform that has players using colors to not only brighten up the darkened world, but to stay alive through various puzzles.
You play as Born, a small shadow like creature who broke itself off of a mysterious void. The void however, is not happy about this, and has no problems sending minions, engulfing areas and hunting Born down to get him back.
Gameplay has two different play styles, one of which is a simple yet functional button set up, allowing players to move left to right, and a single button to jump. The other is a tilt based system which I personally wasn’t a fan of, but appreciated the option being there for those interested in that style of play.
Aside from the initial controls, Born also unlocks colors that players will have to use to paint along select surfaces via the touch screen. Blue gain momentums, green bounces off of, and brown sticks to surfaces.
Combat is simple; there isn’t much. Born is a fragile creature who must overcome the other monsters born from the void through the use of his unlocked colors and the environment itself, such as using the blue to force monsters to slide into pits, or eventually a red lava like color to set enemies ablaze. Aside from defeating enemies, the colors must also be used to overcome hazards such as spikes, tall cliffs and turret guns. Checkpoints are plentiful, so the game rarely feels too overbearing for players and instant respawns help keep things from being too frustrating.
While most of the game allows players to go at their own pace and really absorb the scenery, in lieu of boss battles, Nihilumbra ends each major area with players running for their lives as they’re chased directly by the void as it attempts to reclaim its missing piece. The void creeps slowly, but the way the levels pan force players to actually stay closer to it, lest they be ambushed by upcoming obstacles and traps hiding just out of frame.
What helps make Nihilumbra stand out is not only the beautiful aesthetics, the functional gameplay, and the wonderfully fitting soundtrack, but in the way the game and story blend together through our unseen character. Alongside Born, there is a character invented entirely through text. This character comments on the player’s status in a chilling blend of both encouraging and belittling phrasing. The dialogue is well written, and adds a semblance of emptiness to the world around you.
Nihilumbra may seem a tad on the expensive side to most iOS gamers with its price tag of $2.99, but the experience is more than worth the price of purchase. Upon finishing the main story mode and watching the fantastic ending, players will unlock the challenging Void mode to add increased difficulty for hardcore players. For me, it’s usually a rare experience when I pick up a game that I don’t want to put down, but Nihilumbra certainly qualifies. The charm of this game is one that mobile gamers should not pass up on.
+ Well written narrative that blends with gameplay
+ Functional control systems for both touch and tilt
+ Clever puzzles that make good use of the color mechanics
+ Beautifully designed characters, levels and a top notch soundtrack
- A few minor errors in translation
- Occasionally buttons will get in the way of where you want to place colors
Nihilumbra is an atmospheric masterpiece that was born from people who went above and beyond showcasing their passion for the project.
Nihilumbra was released on June 28th, 2012 for iOS devices.