Review: Nihilumbra

Review: Nihilumbra

Nihilumbra is an award winning puzzle adventure game developed by Barcelona-based studio, BeautiFun Games. Originally released for mobile devices in 2012, and released on the PlayStation Vita and Wii U some time after,  this year Nihilumbra has come to the Nintendo Switch as Beautifun’s first title for the platform.

Title: Nihilumbra
Developer: BeautiFun Games
Platform: Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by Publisher
Interface: Controller or touchscreen
Available on Steam, Google Play, iOS App Store, PlayStation Vita, Wii U eShop, Nintendo Switch eShop

Nihilumbra puts you in the role of an amorphous blob from the Void, a realm of only darkness. As this blob you then escape out into a post apocalyptic Earth, gaining a more humanoid form as you venture through it and constantly avoid the world wrecking void as it tries to catch you. Your only ally is an unknown voice always following you, although at times it doesn’t act like much of one. What this voice says could be either something to help you, something to put you down, or just an observation, which is fairly confusing.

In order to solve puzzles and avoid or defeat enemies, several colors with different properties need to be collected. Each color has its own special use, including speed boosts, bouncing off of the ground, sticking to surfaces and more. These colors can be put on most surfaces, the only exception being in spaces that have already been covered by pieces of the void, which automatically erase any color. As a part of the void yourself, you can also erase colors to get past obstacles, but you must have previously obtained that specific color before being able to erase them.

Using and erasing colors utilizes the Nintendo Switch touchscreen, which still isn’t that common, but not surprising for a mobile game port. Unfortunately, for those who would prefer not dirtying their screen up with fingerprints,  there is no alternative control option. No puzzles in Nihilumbra are as scratch inducing as Nintendo DS games or some other mobile games however, and fingerprint smudges can be cleaned off easily.

There are several types of enemies throughout Nihilumbra, and different colors grant you different ways to deal with them. In the beginning enemies need to be avoided or cleverly led to their demise by using the surrounding environment to your advantage. As you go on and obtain more colors, enemies can be dealt with more directly, while others still require some wit to get past.

Nihilumbra features an appropriate variety of environments ranging from snowy mountain peaks to dark and scorching volcano caves. Each area is split into several sections and introduces a new color a few sections in, which help you overcome the obstacles ahead. The backgrounds used are pleasant to look at, and each one has a distinct atmosphere, despite having plenty of similarities.  There’s also an art gallery which unlocks as you progress through the game, for those who would like to appreciate it without having to simultaneously solve puzzles.

The one problem I found with the graphics in particular were the aforementioned volcano caves, which can be lit up only slightly from certain elements reacting to the appropriate color. These areas aren’t difficult to traverse through, but aren’t the easiest to look at, and just a small boost of brightness when using this mechanic would greatly improve them.

In the last section of each environment, the void more aggressively pursues you while destroying all that is behind you, consuming it with it’s purple and black mass while you try to make your escape. The tension increase from this means that you have to get past obstacles at a faster pace, and it may take a few tries before you can temporarily escape the voids clutches. Luckily, there are several checkpoints along the way when this happens, so you won’t always restart back at the first part of the section.

Nihilumbra‘s soundtrack is well done, but is far from the most captivating of the genre . All tracks have a suitable amount of eeriness to them, and change with each environment.  The same track plays each time the void chases you at the end of the level and conveys an appropriate sense of urgency. Otherwise, the soundtrack isn’t particularly notable and could be mistaken for the soundtrack of other games in the genre.

After finishing the main campaign, Void Mode is unlocked, which increases the difficulty by adding more enemies throughout each level. This mode is best for those seeking a tougher challenge than the main campaign, as it requires more well thought out planning. It can ultimately be more frustrating than the prior campaign for some, but at least can end up adding more to the overall experience.

Something I noticed was that despite the fair amount of checkpoints between screens, if you exit the game in the middle of a section, you may have to start from the beginning when you come back to it. This isn’t a huge detriment, as you will have already learned the solutions to previously solved puzzles, but is tedious when there are already alternative checkpoints available that could be used.

Although it may not be for everybody, and feels somewhat outdated due to more recent games in the genre,  Nihilumbra provides some familiar mechanics surrounded by original concepts. It may not be the best the genre has to offer, but is acceptably entertaining and mostly pleasant to look at.  Nihilumbra is a brief and strange game best recommended for players who enjoy that type of experience.

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