Nihilumbra (iOS) Review
Kalvin Martinez / Aug 17th, 2012 No Comments
Nihilumbra is a side-scrolling platform with generous puzzle elements available for iOS devices (iPod touch 4th gen, iPhone 4/4S and iPad). Beautifun Games, a small team based out of Sabadell, Spain developed the title and it is the first game the team has produced. Nihilumbra came out on June 25, 2012 and is hugely affordable at $2.99.
One of the best things about Nihilumbra is its melancholic, depressing and often beautiful story. The game is about the main character, Born breaking away from “the Void” and escaping to the real world. As Born explores the first real world location it escapes to, it takes on the form of a scarecrow. While being acclimated and amazed by the new world around it, an omniscient voice never lets it forget that “the Void” will not let it go because it is a part of “the Void”. On its journey to outrun “the Void”, Born finds colors in the world that allow it to manipulate the environment in surprising ways. No matter how far Born runs, “the Void” is always chasing it and sending Void Creatures to stop it. Along the way as Born becomes more powerful and sees more of the world, it gains more agency and sense of self. Thus, as it runs from the inevitability of “the Void”, it is learning to differentiate itself from “the Void”. Born is not only fighting for its freedom, but it is fighting for its right to live.
The story is effective and evocative in the simplicity of its prose. While it is clear and easy to read, it has so much subtext loaded into it that is becomes deeper even if the ultimate philosophical quandary of Born’s existence and the parable it represents seems evident. Nihilumbra may incorporate story and gameplay in such a spectacular way that it is hard to think of a game with a more fluid experience among the two often times warring elements. Never does the action or progress of gameplay stop or take a backseat to the story. As the sprite of Born moves through the levels, the text of the story appears effortlessly next to him. No text box or cut scene interrupts gameplay, thus the two elements become one. At times, Nihilumbra seems like a brilliantly depressing picture book.
It is not uncommon for a game to excel in either the story or the gameplay aspect leaving the other lacking. However, in Nihilumbra, the two elements balance each other out nicely. The game on the surface is a basic side-scrolling platformer where the player has to avoid gaps and enemies while making their way to the end of the level. While that is true in a sense, the game throws plenty of variations to that simple formula. Mixing up the platforming actions are the extensive and varied puzzles that the player needs to solve in order to continue progressing through the level. The key to puzzles comes in the form the various colors Born gains in the game’s five worlds. These colors can be applied to most surfaces in the game giving them special properties. While the player only has to master one color to begin with, once they learn more than one color, it becomes imperative to switch between them on the fly in order to solve puzzles and continue progress. Often times there are more than one way in order to continue in the game. Even though Born cannot attack at the beginning of the game, relying on misdirection and tricks in order to destroy enemies, eventually, Born can actually take out enemies on his own by employing the use of a specific color. It is a nice addition when outwitting an enemy will not do. The game gives players plenty of time to explore and solve puzzles for the majority of the time in each of the worlds, but once they reach the end of the level, that is when the challenge begins. Not only must players make their way to the end and solve puzzles, but also now, they must outrun “the Void”, a creeping blackness that forces the player forward, and if they are caught then they have to start over. Instead of being insanely frustrating, the game has good checkpoints throughout a level, so the player does not have to start over at the beginning of a level. It is especially helpful after completing a particularly tough section. There are two ways to play either with a conventional control scheme in the corners of the screen or by tilting the iOS device to move back or forward and flipping it to jump. Of the two set-ups, the onscreen controller is definitely more responsive.
Graphics and Sound
Nihilumbra is a beautiful game without a doubt. The graphics are crisp and charming with a great color schemes. The worlds all have a distinct look and color palettes that make everything look unique and interesting. Even the darkness of “the Void” pops in a way that does not make the game ever seem muddled. Born’s character model is wonderful and even though it never has much expression or distinction, it seems to burst with personality. The original soundtrack by Álvaro Lafuente is ethereal while still having a sense of urgency. As a score, the music matches the tone of the story extremely well while still managing to differentiate itself from the at times majorly depressing notes of the story. As Beautifun Games puts it in the game’s iTunes description, headphones are definitely encouraged when playing this game.
OverallWhile there are plenty of games available for iOS devices, very few of them will leave the impression that Nihilumbra does. Often when looking at iOS games, there is always, a qualifier because they are games generally designed for quick little diversions while standing in line at the bank or for public transit. Yet Nihilumbra is more than simply a distraction, it demands attention. Sure, it can be picked up quickly and a player can go through a level or two while waiting in the dentist office, but more than likely the gamer will lose themselves in it. The game has great replay value past the games initial 4-5 hour story mode by offering a second, “Void Mode”. This is a mode, where players go through remixed levels in each of the worlds that are often tougher to remove the traces of “the Void” from the world Born ruined in his escape. It adds a bunch of extra hours to the game and even more value to the game’s attractive price point. The only negatives are that playing the game on smaller devices is sometimes tricky due to the need to have more precision and when trying to switch between multiple colors in quick and tense sections is sometimes clumsy. However, these are minor gripes and often easy to compensate for. There are plenty of fun iOS games available, but Nihilumbra is a definite must own for iOS owners.
tags: mobile , review