4CR Plays – Nihilumbra

by Calen Henry

If it hadn’t been for the developer contacting us, I probably wouldn’t have played Nihilumbra. That would have been a real shame. There are so many quality indie games being released right now that it’s easy to miss some gems, and Nihilumbra is most certainly a gem.

The void chasing Born

The void chasing Born

Nihilumbra is a PC port of an iOS platform puzzler where you have the power to paint the terrain with different colors, each one having a different effect on the landscape. While it’s not a hugely original gameplay mechanic, the whole package is top notch. The game required no set up, features a thorough tutorial, excellent sound and music, and a compelling narrative. You play as a creature of the void named Born who escaped to the Earth and uses colors to outrun and outwit other creatures of the void who are in pursuit.

nihilumbra1

Nihilumbra’s tutorial overlay

The whole game is great, but for me the presentation takes Nihilumbra from being a fun and clever indie game to something really special. Its presentation rivals games like Braid and Limbo. Everything looks hand drawn and a bit ethereal, a mix between a Tim Burton movie and a Jhonen Vasquez comic. The visuals are complemented by an orchestral score that’s just Danny Elfman enough, and narration that is very well voiced for the story. The tone of the game is serious, and the presentation really supports that rather than undermining it and making it come off as silly.

You move Born with either WSAD, or the arrow keys, with W, the up arrow, and the space bar all working as jump. Other than basic movement everything you do to influence the game world is done through painting colors on the levels. The left mouse button paints and the right mouse button removes your colors from the level. The five different colors all have inherent special effects:

Spoiler Alert: Skip this if you want to discover the colors on your own

  • Blue makes the surface icy causing monsters to slip and allowing you to gain momentum to jump further
  • Green makes things bouncy, but only to the height of the apex of your initial jump, never higher
  • Brown slows down anything moving across it, as well as allowing you to stick to walls and ceilings
  • Red burns anything touching it
  • Yellow conducts electricity between machines and switches

End Spoilers

Every world introduces one color and the game does a superb job of teaching you how to use each new color. Puzzles which use the new color in combination with other colors and environmental hazards are seamlessly transitioned to once the color has been fully introduced.

The puzzles start out simple but by the end of the campaign there are some pretty tricky scenarios relying on creative combinations of colors, manipulation of enemies, and timing. Frustration is kept to a minimum because the game is generous with checkpoints though the tutorial neglects to tell you that you can select colors by scrolling with the mouse wheel instead using the beautiful but cumbersome menu to select them.

The colour selection tree

The colour selection tree

Despite some clever puzzles, the campaign is relatively easy, and fairly short. But after completing it, Void mode unlocks and it is HARD. I had to finally resort to YouTube to figure out how to get past the first monster on the first level in Void mode. So if you like the mechanics but feel the campaign holds your hand too much, fear not, it will only let go of your hand for a moment before it grabs it and crushes it in the unforgiving grip of Void mode.

Nihilumbra releases September 25th on GamersGate (PC/Mac), and Desura (PC/Mac/Linux). It’s also on Greenlight, so if you’d rather have it on Steam go vote for it right now. The official site has a demo, as well.

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