By Josh Speer / May 21st, 2015
|Release Date||May 14, 2015|
|Platform||PC, Linux, Mac, iOS, Vita, Android, Wii U|
|Age Rating||ESRB – E for Everyone – Mild Fantasy Violence|
What is it with me and puzzle games about shadows? There’s definitely something appealing about them, and that’s the primary motivation I had when I decided to review Nihilumbra for the Wii U. Now it’s no secret that Nihilumbra came out for many other platforms before they moseyed over to Nintendo’s console. While some might view that as a potential negative, saying it’s just porting the game over and over again, I would venture that this game was always meant to be played on the GamePad. But more on that later. For now, the question I have to ask myself is whether or not Nihilumbra had a significant impact on me as a gamer. Into the darkness we go…
The game starts by thrusting you into a strange new world, being chased by something called the Void. You are little more than a blob of shadow named Born, and your only companion is the narrator who alternates between warning you and helping you understand how to play. While all you can do initially is walk and jump, this is sufficient to make a daring escape from the kudzu-like shadow wall of Void that wants to envelop you. You then find yourself in frozen cliffs, and before you is a lone scarecrow (don’t ask me why). Born, despite being told he is nothing and insignificant by the narrator, opts to reform himself in the shape of the scarecrow. This hints that there may be more to Born than a meaningless blob of shadow. It also has the added benefit of giving him slightly more maneuverability, but not enough to solve the puzzles before him. No, that is accomplished through the use of magical color-imbued flowers.
In each of the lands through which Born travels, he encounters a lone flower that warps him to a strange alternate dimension where he learns to harness the power of color. Each color he acquires has different properties, such as Blue coating floors in ice to make things slide, giving Born more momentum thus letting him jump farther, or Green, which is a buoyant color that allows him to jump higher or bounce projectiles, or even Brown, which allows Born to creep past sleeping foes and cling to any surface. There is a total of five colors you acquire in the game, and each offers unique options. You apply colors to the landscape using the stylus on the GamePad, and, if you make a mistake, you can use your inherent purple Void color to erase any color. It works remarkably well, so much so that I can’t imagine playing Nihilumbra on any console without a touch screen.
Though you will primarily use your colors to evade detection from enemies such as Crawlaggars, Vaccumores and more, you can also use color to destroy your foes. Early in the game, Born comes across strange leftover technology that can harm creatures of the Void. Careful manipulation of your environment can turn these artifacts into your tools. When all else fails, though, the safest bet is generally to just avoid enemies, especially later in the game when they get far more complex and ruthless, such as Void servants who use stolen technology to fire lasers, or others that erase your color and cannot be affected by it. There’s a wide range of creatures, and they all do a good job of constantly forcing you to up your game. Plus, they all look very creepy, menacing and cool, like some sort of shadow-like Cthulhu creatures.
Each of the lands you encounter, ranging from Frozen Hills to Forest to Desert to Volcano to City, have several sections that you must traverse, starting with a flower section. Luckily, the game makes use of frequent checkpoints, so, if you wind up dead, you don’t have to try the level over from the beginning. They also have the added benefit of reabsorbing all spent color each time you touch them, just in case you are running low. Once you learn your new power, you are required to use it to escape through each land, culminating in a escape sequence at the end. Sadly, each land you escape from is devoured by the Void, so, each time you survive, it is at the expense of something else. This morbid theme is ever present throughout the game, with the narrator even going so far as to blame you for the death of entire lands. While it is never clear who the narrator represents, whether he is an outside entity or the verbalized sentiments of Born’s own thoughts, his diatribes definitely frame the story in a dark light.
While the art style is very fitting for the monsters you face, and none of the levels are unappealing, the backgrounds of each level have a flat look to them, like a painting. While they hardly look ugly, I wish something could have been done to spice things up a bit. Luckily, things are salvaged in the music department, as tunes range from somber and relaxing to frantic and exciting. It’s a bit like listening to ambient nature noise, but with an actual soundtrack, and it works well. I also appreciated the VA of the narrator, and feel he really brought the whole experience together. That said, I was a bit surprised that the GamePad itself had no audio, so playing without the TV on was a disappointing experience. It’s a minor issue, but one I wish Nintendo would fix with all indie teams, offering assistance to make it work. This is especially true in a game like this where the GamePad is so integral to the gameplay.
While I managed to get through the entire story mode of the game in just under three hours, there is replay value to be found in Nihilumbra. Once you beat the main game, you unlock something called Void Mode, which is essentially a MUCH harder gauntlet of levels with fewer checkpoints. This is the no-holds-barred version of the main game, and I was only able to beat one of these thus far. There are also art gallery pictures to unlock, as well as achievements. After beating the story mode, I had only unlocked about half of them, so I’ll need to muster my courage and take a run at Void Mode later. There is also the benefit of two-player mode, unique to the Wii U version. While I didn’t have an opportunity to try it myself, as it’s local, it looks good for helping a younger sibling or cousin through the game.
Overall, I was very pleased with Nihilumbra. Though it does run a bit on the short side, the replay value to be found in Void Mode certainly improves matters. The visual and audio side of things was competent, serving to fit the story and gameplay well, but weren’t exactly mind blowing. Luckily, the gameplay itself was enjoyable and constantly challenging, but without ever making me want to smash my head against a wall. I would recommend this to any fan of puzzle games who hasn’t played it yet, or to hardcore Nintendo enthusiasts. Born’s journey is one worth experiencing.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
BeautiFun GameseShopNihilumbraPuzzle PlatformerReviewWii U