Announced way back in August 2013, Nihilumbra has finally managed to make its way to the Wii U’s Nintendo eShop. Originally developed for iOS, Nihilumbra has made the transition to other touchscreen-based devices such as PlayStation Vita, but don’t let that put you off as it has a unique aesthetic that’s worth checking out.
Nihilumbra is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer that follows the story of Born, an entity that has escaped from The Void to explore our world but is now being hunted down. The story is told through large text appearing across the screen and a deep masculine voiceover which thankfully can be switched off. The voiceover might appeal to some but, for me, the voiceover exposed weaknesses in the narrative.
As you progress through each stage, the narrator details how each area is destroyed by The Void because of your actions. The narrator berates and belittles you, blaming you for the destruction of this world and it’s this direction in storytelling that sets this game apart. There is no hand-holding, no cute bunnies or cheerful music, this is dark, sinister storytelling which is really appealing, particularly on a console known for its bright, colourful games like Mario.
There are five worlds for you to play through, with players gaining a new colour in each. Born is essentially powerless, you cannot jump or punch enemies in your path, all you can do is evade and use the power of the colours to help you progress. Controls are pretty simple – control stick for movement, A for Jump and the colour wheel controlled either by the touch screen or the L/R buttons. Draw your finger across walls, floors or ceilings and your selected colour will be painted – it’s that simple.
Abilities are obtained from a flower in each world and the puzzles in such worlds are primarily focused on that acquired within them. The first colour you obtain is in ‘Frozen Cliffs’ giving you the ability (not surprisingly) to create ice. You can use it to cause enemies to slide into the abyss or help move objects, but it’s largely used to give you more speed and the ability to jump larger gaps. In the second world ‘Living Forest’, you obtain the green colour which gives you the ability to bounce. The higher the platform is that you jump from, the higher your bounce will be. The brown colour obtained in ‘Ash Desert’ gives you the ability to make surfaces sticky, meaning that you can stick to walls and slow enemies down.
Whereas the red ability from ‘Volcano’ is the only colour that gives you an attack mechanism, allowing you to set objects and enemies on fire. I enjoyed this ability most as it gave me a bit more time to think about how to solve a puzzle without the worry of enemies killing me. The final ability obtained in ‘The City’ is the yellow colour, which gives you the power to conduct electricity allowing you to switch machines on and off. Once you’ve obtained each power, the puzzles are primarily focused on that one ability which is good for helping you get to grips and learning about all the ways that they can be used. But, at the same time, there are very few moments where you get to take full advantage of all of them at once. There is never really any puzzle that requires you to use any more than two of them, which is a bit of a disappointment. Nevertheless, the puzzles are great and BeautiFun Games have done a wonderful job of creating puzzles that make use of them, it just would have been good to have more puzzles that required you to use multiple colours at once.
Each world is relatively short with the main story taking roughly 2-3 hours to complete. Upon completion, ‘Void Mode’ is unlocked and that is where the real challenge begins. In Void mode, the aim is to bring back each world from The Void. Some of the puzzles are the same, but there are a lot of new ones so it’s not an exact replay of the game on a harder difficulty. To be honest, I only completed a handful of levels in this mode because the difficulty level was very unforgiving to the point where there was no enjoyment in trying to complete them all. It is disappointing that BeautiFun Games has managed to make such a beautiful game with an interesting story, but have the difficulty completely skewed with the first half really easy and becoming too difficult in the second.
Graphically, this is one of my favourite Nintendo eShop games. A lot of attention and a lot of love have gone into the style of each world. Picturesque hand-drawn backgrounds and the implementation of foreground graphics add to the feeling that this is a real world you’re exploring.
The styling of the game is both cute and creepy so that it can appeal to a wider audience but still maintain a unique charm. Frozen Cliffs was by far the most beautiful world to explore with its snow-capped mountains and caves. When you find the flower that bestows you with each power, you are transported to a new world for a brief moment, the stylings of this world are just beautiful that it’s impossible to not just sit for a moment and take it all in. I would recommend this game for its graphics alone.
The soundtrack also adds to the experience with melodies that perfectly match each world, with everything having a haunting feel to it that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tim Burton movie.
If you’re looking for something a little different, then Nihilumbra is for you. While the game suffers from a poor balance in difficulty, it’s easily made up for with its rich storytelling and beautiful hand-drawn world. At £6.99 it’s a little pricey for a game with such a short story, but if you’re up for a real challenge with Void Mode then Nihilumbra is definitely worth a purchase.