Nihilumbra (PS Vita) Second Opinion Review

By Gareth F 09.05.2015

Review for Nihilumbra on PS Vita

Nihilumbra isn't exactly a name that rolls off the tongue but those well versed in Latin might recognise the derivation from the words Nihil (meaning nothing) and Umbra (meaning shadow). Nihilism as a doctrine subscribes to the concept of a perceived pointlessness of existence that can be accompanied by a general mood of despair, while the 'Umbra' of the title would generally refer to the innermost, darkest part of a shadow where the light source is completely blocked. Not dissimilar, in fact, to an eclipse of the sun. While the name might sound like an exercise in making Latin 'cool,' it does bizarrely seem quite apt when the subject matter is taken into consideration as the game inhabits a relatively sombre setting that only seems to get bleaker with further progress. Cheery stuff then? After an initial look at BeautiFun's release on PlayStation Vita, Cubed3 goes back for a second opinion in this C3-2-1 review…

It feels like there's a hidden (or possibly not so hidden) subtext embedded deeply into the narrative of Nihilumbra with a profound and meaningful message about the very nature of existence and creation itself. Unfortunately, it's well beyond the comprehension of this writer's feeble mind, so rather than proffer potentially wrong interpretations it seems that the best approach when attempting a review would be to stick to the bare facts.

Originally released on iOS way back in 2012 by small Spanish studio BeautiFun Games, Nihilumbra is a puzzle heavy platformer that has since surfaced on the Android, PC, PlayStation Vita, and soon on Wii U. It tells the tale of a void; a mass of nothingness that suddenly spews forth a blob that becomes sentient, takes on the form of the first thing it sees (a scarecrow), and finds itself in a stark, alien landscape that raises more questions than it answers. Cue a flurry of existential questioning from the inquisitive blob along the lines of:

Screenshot for Nihilumbra on PS Vita

'Who am I?'
'What am I doing here?'
'Where is here?'
'I'm starving … is there a kebab shop nearby?' (okay, this one is made up)

There's little time to ponder the nature of the situation, although given that the void seems fixated on re-assimilating the escapee on the nearest opportunity, thus setting up the chase. Immediate similarities to Limbo spring to mind as both games inhabit a mysterious, bleak, oppressive world that is traversed from left to right while solving puzzles to progress. However, unlike Limbo, there is an additional tactile element that allows the player to interact with the landscape and change its properties via use of the touch screen. Unsurprisingly, these changes have repercussions on the void-spawn and the foes that oppose it.

Screenshot for Nihilumbra on PS Vita

The relatively short journey through Nihilumbra takes place across five different landscapes, each of which bestows a new colour ability for the anti-hero to utilise on the increasingly hostile environment. First stop is the Frozen Cliffs that gifts the colour blue, leaving an icy sheen on any surface it's applied to, making it ideal for either building up momentum for a long jump, making enemies slide into danger, or enabling the easier pushing of heavy objects. Once out of the frost zone, things start to pick up in the Living Forest where the colour green enables the power of bounce, which when used in conjunction with the laws of physics facilitates the trampolining to areas previously out of reach. For those who enjoy the colour brown (who doesn't?), then the Ash Desert is the place to be as this sticky covering is ideal for slowing down quick enemies, clinging to walls, and stealthily sneaking past dozing hazards. Unsurprisingly, the Volcano level brings the heat in association with the colour red, so budding pyromaniacs can make the surface hot, which will set fire to any enemies dwelling on it for too long. Last, but not least, the Abandoned City bequeaths the colour yellow and in doing so gives the ability to conduct electricity and bring power to long dormant turrets and lifts. Each level ends with the void closing in on gamers, forcing a reactive sprint to outrun it before making a leap of faith into the next area.

Screenshot for Nihilumbra on PS Vita

As touched upon earlier, the main campaign isn't a particularly lengthy affair, yet progress does rely on some fairly satisfying puzzle solving pitched at a difficulty gradient that rises in relation to the player's proximity to the end of the game. Completing Nihilumbra unlocks the 'Void' mode, a considerably tougher challenge that revisits all the previous levels but lays in a totally different set of puzzles that are liberally dosed with an overabundance of seemingly more aggressive enemy creatures. An additional mechanic involving coloured flowers that prevent the usage of matching colour abilities in close proximity adds yet another head scratching strand to proceedings.

A fairly odd design choice that takes centre stage during the journey is the deep voiced narrator who prattles on throughout the entire game, providing all the cod philosophy and soul searching questions running through the protagonist's head. It's mildly irritating and, at times, it actually struggles to keep up with the gameplay as eagerness to progress will cut off the slow, drawling dialogue mid flow. It's easy to understand why BeautiFun felt the need to include a narrator but, thankfully, there is a mute option that can be enabled without fear of missing salient plot points given that the blobs musings appear on-screen in text form anyway.

Screenshot for Nihilumbra on PS Vita

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Lovers of puzzle based platform games should enjoy all that Nihilumbra has to offer and it feels like a good fit for the PlayStation Vita. It's possibly not a title that will still be demanding attention a year down the line, yet as an experience it provides some well thought out puzzles that are perfect for tackling in bite-sized chunks.

Developer

BeautiFun Games

Publisher

BeautiFun Games

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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