I am an aspiring video game journalist and freelance writer. I spend my time playing, reviewing and blogging about games. You can read my blog over at; www.joystickculture.com
Published July 5th 2012
Do you know why you're here, alive, in this world? Do you know where you're heading, what your life will amount to? Nihilumbra is a 2D puzzle/platformer that will certainly tug at your mind with these questions as you explore its dark and haunting world as Born, an entity created from the anti-matter force known as The Void.
Nihilumbra is platform gaming on iOS devices done right. It's fluid gameplay and absolutely gorgeous art style makes for a compelling and unique gaming experience.
From the start you're faced with escaping the void, breaking out into a new and mysterious place. You have no direction and no idea where you are and your only choice is to move forward. Bold white letters, forming sentences, will appear on the screen as you progress. I found myself really interested when this occurred, as it helps to drive the narrative forward, provide clues on how to overcome obstacles and serve as an omnipresent force warning of impending danger.
While it may sound as if Nihilumbra holds your hand by warning you of danger and helping you solve puzzles, this isn't necessarily the case. Pacing is carefully considered here and the game provides assistance only when new elements to its gameplay are introduced.
Come across a new enemy, or new ability and you will be given clues as to how to overcome or use it. The game presents a challenge when you're forced to overcome multiple threats, solve puzzles and use all the abilities at your disposal
Throughout Born's journey you will absorb colours, which grant you new and exciting abilities. For example using the colour red will ignite the ground underneath your enemies whereas using the colour blue will turn the ground icy, allowing you to move faster and in turn, jumping further.
Each colour brings its own unique trait to gameplay, giving you the power to influence and shift the environment as you see fit. Where Nihilumbra really excels is how it requires you to use the colours available to you creatively in order to overcome your challenges.
You can combine the brown and green colour (the former allowing you to stick to any surface while the latter makes the ground beneath you bouncy when you jump on it) to climb tall walls. Apply the brown colour to the wall and lay green on the ground immediately in front. Stick yourself to the wall and jump off onto the green. You will bounce up, and each time stick yourself back to the brown wall before jumping back onto the green. Since you bounce higher the higher you are you will eventually reach a height to safely land atop the wall and progress.
But its creative gameplay would mean nothing if the game didn't control well. I've found iOS games that uses on-screen touch buttons a frustrating affair. This is due to lack of response, or poorly designed on-screen 'buttons'. The team at BeautiFun games has broken the trend as Nihilumbra really plays smoothly.
On the bottom left hand side of the screen is a stylized bar with arrows pointing left and right while a singular button with an arrow pointing up lies over in the bottom right. You can move Born only left or right and jump. Controlling the game feels natural with this set up, and really feeds into the classic platforming the team was aiming for.
If you're into something a little different however, you can adjust the controls to take advantage of the tilt features of the iPhone/iPad rather than using on-screen buttons. To use the tilt controls you'll move the device in the direction you want to move and tilt forward to jump.
When you add in the need to touch the screen to use your colour abilities the game can get quite hectic. It may turn a lot of people off, but if you persevere and get a hang of it it's actually a rewarding and unique way to play.
With beautifully painted environments, and well crafted sprits, the visuals in Nihilumbra are a stand-out feature. I was truly captivated by its water-colour aesthetic, as it captured a devoid of life feel about the world you explore. Each level has a radically different look and feel to them. From the snowy mountains, to wind swept desert and an isolated and haunting city Nihilumbra is pleasing to the eye.
I thoroughly enjoyed this game. There was never a moment I didn't enjoy Nihilumbra, even when faced with frustrating and complex puzzles. It strikes an excellent balance between challenging and downright frustrating, because you only have yourself to blame. The application of your colour powers by touching the screen feels natural, as to does the more traditional on-screen button control scheme and while the tilt mechanics take some getting used to, are implemented well.
Haunting, yet beautiful, this is one of the best gaming titles available on iOS platforms.
Gorgeous, painted visuals
Unique and well crafted gameplay
Fantastic tone and presentation