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Hey everyone, Tom here from IGM.
Today I’m going to be talking about a game I recently played through, called Nihilumbra. It’s a quiet little platformer that, had it not been Greenlit earlier this Fall, it probably would have flown under the radar of most PC gamers.
If you have already heard of Nihilumbra, you more than likely heard about the iOS version, which Beautifun Games released in 2012. Apple promoted the game as a “hidden gem” and called Nihilumbra one of the best games of the year. That’s incredibly high praise for a game developed only by a small team in a town outside Barcelona, Spain.
To get right into things, Nihilumbra is a puzzle platformer where players control a little shadowy dude, attempting to figure out who he is, where he is, and what the heck is with all the purple-nastiness everywhere. Our little shadow man finds color flowers which then give him abilities related to that color. Green makes bouncy grass, blue makes slippery ice, brown makes sticky poo, red makes lava, and yellow, well I don’t want to ruin everything, but here’s a clue:
Anyway, as you can see, the various elements come in handy, when it comes time to solve the puzzles found in Nihilumbra’s levels.
One of the major differences between the mobile version and the freshly-released Steam version of the game is that Nihilumbra now has an actual narrator, reading the text that pops up in nearly every scene of the game. The voice actor that Beautifun Games hired to read the script has a lovely voice, and I wish him only the best…but holy purple goo, Batman, I had that dude muted in a matter of minutes.
It wasn’t that he was annoying, or even that the writing was bad, it was that Nihilumbra simply doesn’t need a narrator. For one, I was able to read the text way faster than the guy was reading it to me, so what ended up happening was:
And that just absolutely slaughtered the mood that the game was working so hard to create.
My dislike of the narrator falls within the John Locke philosophy of “Don’t tell me what I can’t do,” or in this case: “Don’t tell me what I can do.” No one likes being bossed around and it is this reason that characters like owl in Ocarina of Time and the mole in Banjo-Kazooie are both neighbors with Jar-Jar Binks, in one of the seven circles of nerd hell.
Luckily, the option to mute the narrator exists, and you can bet your ass-umptions are correct and that I did indeed have the “mute this dude” box checked.
People simply don’t like being told what to do. And for some physiological reason reading instructions is way better than someone else reading them to me. So once I had the narrator muted, I had defeated the most frustrating part of the main game.
And that brings us to the overall difficulty level of Nihilumbra. I’m not sure but I think the developers named the two options: “Goo-Goo-Gah-Gah” and “We can’t even beat our own game at this point”. The difference in difficulty between the initial playthough, compared to the “Void” mode which unlocks after completing the entire game, is ridiculous.
Here just look at this clip of me playing through the second to last level on the initial play through:
Now compare it to this next clip, where it is literally the first scene in the first level of Void mode:
Now, that’s not to say the initial playthrough is a breeze…there were certainly a few times where I got stumped by a scenario for a few moments, but a good 95% of the areas I was able to clear through on my first or second attempt. Typically the times I was killed were all good examples of the developers being purposefully frustrating and throwing something at you that you were not expecting:
But, to Beautifun Game’s credit, checkpoints were abundant, so dying was never that big of a setback.
I feel like Beautifun Games didn’t take into account how easy the game would be for mouse-and-keyboard gamers, as opposed to those who were playing the game on a tablet. While I was playing through the game, I couldn’t help but thinking “man, that puzzle would have been a nightmare to get through, using touchscreen controls”. While I’ve never played the mobile version of Nihilumbra, I would wager all the purple goo in the world that I’m correct about that.
As you’ve been hearing, the soundtrack for Nihilumbra is very fitting for the game, and it is quite a lovely soundtrack to just listen to when relaxing. Fun fact, the full soundtrack is up on Spotify, so if you have a Spotify account and have been enjoying what you’ve been hearing, save the album to your favorites, and share it around. Álvaro Lafuente did a fantastic job composing the music, and Nihilumbra’s soundtrack is one I’ve already shuffled into my playlists.
There is a story to Nihilumbra, but it is pretty predictable, and once you start picking up on things sprinkled through the environments, you’ll be able to piece things together relatively quickly. The game culminates with a revelation that falls along the lines of “you are you and should love you for being you” which is nice….but, ehhhh, felt trite.
But hey, if it helped even one person out there, and turned their frown upside down, well then I suppose it’s all worth it.
Nihilumbra is out now on Steam for $9.99, which in my opinion is a bit steep considering the mobile version is only $2.99 and from what I saw is largely the same game, so take that into consideration if you have an iOS device. Currently Nihilumbra is not available for Android devices, but as I understand it, an Android version is in the works.
With an easy-to-fix narration issue, a strange difficulty disparity, a beautiful soundtrack, and a decent story, I feel that Nihilumbra is deserving of a SEVEN out of TEN.
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I’ll see you guys next time.