Game Play and Mechanics10.0/10
Visual Style and Quality9.0/10
- Smooth Controls
- Immersive Story Telling
- Excellent Sound Quality
- Even Difficulty Scaling
- Story Slightly Predictable
- Minor Issues with Pacing
- Too Little Variety in Soundtrack
One of the first things Beautifun Games pointed out was that this was not a Limbo clone. I filed that bit of information in the back of my brain as Steam downloaded and installed the game. I could understand why the developer would want to clarify this. When a game is as well thought of as Limbo, you expect clones and rip offs. On the other hand, being compared to Limbo could be a major compliment. Still, I’d have to wait until I played the game to really evaluate just how true the declaration was. And so, I have played the game. Extensively. Therefore, I can say the following with confidence: Nihilumbra is not a Limbo clone.
Game Play and Mechanics: 10
I died playing this game. A lot. Especially during Void mode. However, every death I experienced had one thing in common. They were all my fault. The controls in Nihilumbra are as smooth as silk. At all times I felt as if I was in total control of Born, almost to the point where he (She? It?) felt like an extension of myself. During tense situations, there was no fumbling for the controls, or moments of panic where I tried to recall which key did what. The controls are simple to learn, with enough variation to require practice, but not so much that it can become confusing. Again, if Born died, it was because I killed it.
The simplicity of the controls negates the necessity of a traditional tutorial. Controls are taught to the player in-game as the action happens, from the most simplistic movement, to the most advanced use of colors. Colors are the main gameplay and puzzle solving mechanic in the game. Each color’s properties are simple in the extreme, but applying them requires increasing levels of puzzle solving skill. Again, the game eases you into their use in a measured way that feels natural, eventually requiring the player to use each new skill in conjunction with it’s predecessors to traverse levels.
The platforming aspect is challenging, but not punishing. Skill is required, but not absolute perfection. There seems to be a built in margin of error in the design of the levels. Not a huge margin by any stretch of the imagination, but enough to assure the player that, yes, every level can be completed. All of these elements combine to enhance the experience, and allow the player to immerse themselves in the story. Believe me Replayers, I tried quite hard to find a fault in this category. I don’t hand out 10’s with ease. However, in this case, Nihilumbra has undoubtedly earned it.
Visual Style and Quality: 9
At first glance, it’s easy to see why one might think of Limbo. At first glance. Look a little deeper, however, and you’ll see that the world of Nihilumbra stands apart with a unique art style that is itself a part of the story. The characters are simple in design, purposefully it seems, to convey the core essence of what they are. For instance, Born seems new, innocent, and malleable. In other words, a perfect vessel for the player as this story’s protagonist.
The enemy NPCs of Nihilumbra are equally simple. The Crawlaggar seems slow and almost clumsy at first, until they become aware of Born. Once they do, they suddenly transform into a single minded killing machine, relentlessly hunting the player down. The Vaccumore appear voracious and all consuming. The danger each creature poses is readily apparent, and this visual communication to the player easily factors into the puzzle solving.
One small sticking point was the primary antagonist itself, the Void. The Void seems to be intended as an embodiment of the concept of nothingness. However, the Void is definitely something. When it attempts to consume Born, it appears to be full of purpose, energy, and perhaps malice. Nothingness? No, I didn’t get that.
This is purely my opinion of course, and I recognize that while the Void may represent nothing, it has to be something. Still, the Void serves it’s purpose. Take one look at the thing, and you’ll want to get away from it. It drives you forward, and that is exactly what it’s supposed to do.
As for the levels and environments themselves, they are beautiful, with just enough detail to convey the emotion that embodies each location. The painted style of the environment was a good choice in my opinion. It allows the simple essence of the player and NPCs to stand apart, yet somehow fit in this world. The Void creatures are not of the world Born finds itself in, but they don’t seem totally alien. As if they are from different aspects of the same reality.
There are a few hiccups in implementing the environment. However, they are so few in number that you can count them on one hand with fingers left to spare. Considering the size of the Beautifun team, I can’t fault them too harshly for this though, and knowing my own overly picky nature, I doubt most players will be able to find even one, so I won’t be pointing them out here.
Sound Quality: 9
Let me get this statement out of the way before I explain it. Beautifun did too good of a job with Nihilumbra’s sound.
The music? Subtle, elegant, and emotional. There are many games that have good music, but choose to assault your ears with it. It screams, “PAY ATTENTION TO ME!” while you are trying to play the game. It’s too much of a good thing, and it breaks the immersion.
Nihilumbra has the opposite problem. The soundtrack is good. It feels natural, as if it’s a part of the environment, and pulls you into the story. Never was I even tempted to turn the music off. I wish I could tell you that this is a common sentiment for me, but unfortunately it’s not. However, that is the problem. I want more of it. The soundtrack is excellent, but lacking in variety. You can’t give me something that good and then stop giving it to me!
The environmental sounds are equally well done. Again, Beautifun didn’t go overboard. Just enough. Just where it’s needed.
That brings us to the narrative. The narrator’s voice has an authoritative, yet soothing quality. When he speaks, you listen. Not because you have to, but because you want to. You find yourself not wanting to miss the story, and will learn to play the game by listening even if you don’t realize the narrator is teaching you. That is why it’s disappointing when the pace of the gameplay doesn’t synch with the narration.
Narration is triggered primarily by hitting landmarks in the game levels. In many instances, the narration will continue from screen to screen. That is unless the next screen has a narration trigger of it’s own. If it does, any unfinished narration is cut off and is lost to the player. It’s rare, but when it happens, it’s jarring and breaks the immersion.
Story Elements: 7
As I said, the story delivered via narration is well done, and in my opinion a major part of the Nihilumbra experience. The story itself does a good job of providing an underlying reason for what is happening in the game. However, as the story goes on, I found the number of possible outcomes in my mind growing smaller and smaller. I wasn’t expecting a major twist, and I didn’t get one. I’m not saying that the story isn’t good, and it certainly doesn’t detract from the gameplay, but I can’t see the ending as being a major shock to anyone.
One thing that boosts this category a bit, however, is that the narrative is used to seamlessly teach the player game mechanics without breaking the immersion. There are no sudden stops where new controls splash onto the screen. New concepts and abilities are taught in-game, as the player continually progresses from location to location. This, for me, was rare enough to deserve a mention.
Fun Factor: 9
When I play Nihilumbra, I don’t think Limbo. I think Oddworld. It’s not overt. Not a straight copy. But the feel of Nihilumbra is similar enough to bring back some good memories.
The difficulty of the game scales nicely as the levels progress, and as new abilities are learned, they are gently folded into your skill set. The farther you progress, the more you must consider different combinations of colors in order to continue onward.
Overall, the experience is just challenging enough to be satisfying, but not so much so as to be grueling. Unless you play Void mode. There, the difficulty is much higher, yet remains enjoyable. I found the increased difficulty to be a welcomed addition, but I will admit that your mileage may vary.
Replay Value: 7
It shouldn’t be surprising by now that I find myself wanting to play more of Nihilumbra. I only wish there was more to play. Once the main story and Void mode have concluded, it’s hard to imagine that anything could be added. Sure, Beautifun could simply add more levels. However, seeing as the game is so story driven, and the seeing further still that the story is wrapped up quite nicely, I have doubts that simply adding more levels would feel the same. The game is well made. The story is well told. The puzzles are satisfying. I want more of it, but won’t be satisfied unless I get more of all of it.
That is a testament to the work Beautifun has put into this game. I’m sure that anyone who plays Nihilumbra will finish it, and at least try Void mode. And I’m sure that anyone who finishes it will replay it from time to time. Perhaps not constantly, but from time to time. Speaking for myself, when I replay it, it will be to relive the story, and enjoy a well crafted game, from a very promising Indie Developer.
For me, it’s simple. Nihilumbra definitely fulfills all of the inherent requirements to be considered a worthy puzzle platformer. There is more than enough gameplay here to make it worth it’s usual price tag of $9.99, and if you happen to catch it on sale, you’re getting it for a steal.
Nihilumbra is available here on multiple platforms, including Windows, Mac, Linux and iOS, and soon to be available on Android and Wii U. To see Nihilumbra in action, check out my Let’s Plays of it in the playlist below: