Nihilumbra Review

Surrender to the Void

A.J. Maciejewski

Reviewed by playing a PlayStation Vita on

Nihilumbra is also available for Wii U

ESRB Everyone rating

If there's one genre that indie developers keep trying to innovate; it's 2D puzzle-platformers. Nihilumbra may not reinvent the wheel but its unique gameplay mechanics and eerie atmosphere definitely make it stand out of the crowd.

Nihilumbra screenshot 1
Looks like the odds aren't in your favour from the very start

Nihilumbra's plot revolves around a mysterious creature that's born from the nothingness of the Void and is compelled to discover the meaning of its life. However, the Void is empty without the creature so a chase begins with everything being destroyed in the Void's path. It's an obscure concept and as the plot evolves into a convoluted mess of existential philosophy, you will either delight in unraveling it or find it too pretentious to swallow. Whether you decide to embrace the plot or ignore it, you're still in for an enjoyable adventure.

The setting of Nihilumbra is captivatingly eerie. Your character is nothing but a shadow with a glowing aura and illuminated eyes yet has personality in its animations as it sways back and forth and leans forward while gliding over surfaces. You'll explore many diverse environments such as an icy mountain range, forest, desert, volcano, and finally a city. Each one is illustrated beautifully with layers of detailed works of art that comprise every screen. Your enemies are shadows and look similar to you yet appear much more malicious as they pop off the screen. The soundtrack does a fantastic job of complementing the eerie setting with ambient and stirring orchestral pieces that cohesively suit your surroundings. Audio effects embellish every event with appropriate sounds being triggered for each on-screen action. Overall, Nihilumbra does a great job of presenting and maintaining a mysterious atmosphere.

Nihilumbra screenshot 2
But I don't want it to be over yet...

You control the creature as you would in most 2D platformers since you mainly move left and right and jump. What makes Nihilumbra unique is that you acquire a palette of five colours that alter surfaces when you paint them via the touch screen. The effects include making surfaces slippery, bouncy, fiery, or sticky. Finally, you'll unlock a colour that can link electricity from power sources to machines. This colour system creates a wide variety of puzzles and challenges that are presented to you along your journey. Nothing is too difficult as most players can complete the main campaign without any outside assistance, but some parts may require some critical thought.

At times, you'll come across segments that you have no way of knowing how to navigate until it's too late and you have to start over from the last checkpoint. These parts are immediately irritating because the majority of the game gives you time to contemplate your next move. Another gameplay flaw is that it's difficult to paint a surface entirely. Simply drawing a line will sometimes not be enough as a few pixels may remain unchanged, thus forcing you to start over if it results in your demise. To remedy this, you'll find yourself rubbing your finger back and forth obsessively to ensure every pixel is covered before you continue.

Nihilumbra screenshot 3
Oh, goodie, more puzzles!

Nihilumbra's main campaign takes about a couple of hours to complete but after finishing it, you unlock "Void Mode". This mode acts as a second bonus campaign and is incredibly challenging. So, if you enjoyed the main game and want to keep playing with the challenge amped up to 11 then you're in luck! There is also an art gallery with a ton of unlockable images and a collection of 24 challenges. Even if you get Nihilumbra just to play through the main campaign then it's worth downloading, but when you realise how much more there is to see and do, you'll be quite pleased that you decided to take the plunge into the Void.

  • + Fairly lengthy adventure with a second ultra-challenging bonus campaign
  • + Paint system provides intriguing puzzles
  • + Pitch-perfect presentation
  • - Segments requiring trial and error quickly become irritating
  • - Completely painting surfaces can be finicky
  • - Some may find the plot too pretentious
8.0 out of 10
Official trailer for Nihilumbra 2:20

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