System(s): Wii U (also available for PC/Mac/Linux and iOS/Android
Release Date: May 14, 2015
Publisher (Developer): Beautifun Games (Beautifun Games)
ESRB Rating: “Everyone” for Mild Fantasy Violence
I have read that many consider Nihilumbra a depressing game. It’s not…unless you consider life depressing, I guess. This puzzle platformer from Beautifun Games is dark in both theme and presentation, but it focuses on color and hope, stressing that both are keys to survival.
Also, like life, the game tends to me simultaneously more fun and aggravating when you’re sharing it with another player.
As one would expect from a game that serves as a metaphor for life, Nihilumbra begins with you being born. In fact, that’s the name of your character: Born. As a blob of black mass, you break away from the Void, and a disembodied voice constantly reminds you of the improbability of your existence and the likelihood that you won’t be around for long.
The Void is coming to reclaim you, and it’s up to you to navigate your way through numerous traps and obstacles as you grow and learn more about the world in which you find yourself.
Being a puzzle platformer, Nihilumbra mostly involves you jumping and sliding from left to right, screen by screen. Each screen presents a challenge you must overcome, mostly through the use of the color you just learned to use. Each color contains a special property: green causes you bounce higher after a jump, brown helps you sneak around and stick to walls, yellow controls the flow of electricity, etc.
You utilize these colors by drawing them onto surfaces with the Wii U Gamepad. Nihilumbra began life as an iOS game, after all, so the controls are basic enough for touchscreen use. However, the Wii U gamepad gives you the benefit of a physical joystick, which makes Born much easier to control than the virtual D-pad of the iPhone or iPad. Because of the need for the touchscreen, you’ll be spending most of the game staring at the Wii U gamepad instead of the TV, but that just makes it a great candidate for off-tv play.
The Wii U also provides a feature that the other versions of Nihilumbra haven’t had: co-op multiplayer. By selecting two-player controls, one of you will move Born on the TV, while the other will handle the color painting on the gamepad. This presents a challenge in itself, as coordinating movements can get kind of complicated. However, Nihilumbra isn’t a fast-paced game, so there’s time for you and the second player to plan out your strategies and moves…mostly. Whereas there’s no timer in most levels, the last in each world has the Void actively pursuing you as you race towards the end.
Obviously, these levels are much more stressful, but they’re also more rewarding when you complete them. And if you don’t make it, no worries; unlike in real life, you usually just drop right back to the beginning of the screen that ended your adventure. Real life could use some save points, I think.
As such, Nihilumbra is very much a macabre (and much more fun) version of Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, that Dr. Seuss book that you undoubtedly received (or inevitably will receive) as a graduation present from somebody. Life is unlikely, and often unfriendly. It’s a challenge, and the void is constantly behind you, trying to reclaim you. You can’t escape it forever, but you can stay ahead of it by growing, by learning, and by using what you’ve learned.
The world is a mysterious place, and the more you’re out in it, the more colors you discover and control, the more rewarding it’s going to be. That right there is enough to justify your existence, no matter what the disembodied voice may tell you.
A download code was provided for this review.