By: Casey Curran
Nihilumbra is the kind of game I often forget exists. Its inspiration is clearly mimicking that of the cult hit Limbo, as you wander through a mysteriously bleak 2D world solving puzzles to get to the next area. Yet its world and puzzles both feel different, even though they offer the same vibe as Limbo. In other words, it’s the correct way to copy what’s popular.
I have no issues with Nhilumbra in terms of its polish; it’s just in terms of gameplay design where I’m thrown off. The game has standard 2D platformer controls, with the d-pad for movement and the X button for jumping. All other actions are done with the touch screen, where you change the floor to make it slippery or let you bounce on it.
The issue is that while most puzzles do slow things down and let you swap between the touch screen and buttons at your leisure, every now and then they ask you to move while touching the environment, which can feel awkward and unintuitive. These moments were infrequent, but they were there enough to bring the game down.
Nihilumbra is an absolutely gorgeous game, both in terms of technology and art direction. The character models and environments all look flawless without any jagged edges bogging things down. Meanwhile, the world you explore has a very mysterious yet dangerous feel to it.
The sound effects, narrator and music all play into making you feel like you’re in a world that isn’t safe, which is still hiding something that is even scarier than the dangers you encounter on your journey. Everything is spot on here.
While visually the game is fantastic, the gameplay does not quite evoke the same emotions. It’s perfectly serviceable, don’t get me wrong, but the puzzles are where everything in the gameplay comes from, and they’re not enough to stay compelling on their own. They are not bad puzzles per se, none of them were obtuse and the game does a very good job of rotating its mechanics to keep all your options fresh in your mind.
The puzzles are just too easy. Most of them require very little experimenting, where after maybe one death or trial you’ll know exactly what the puzzle needs to do. I thought that switching between the different kinds of ways to manipulate the environment could change this as the game went on, yet the puzzles still remained overly simplistic. I was never stumped by anything, wondering how I can get to the next area, or finding that “Eureka!” moment where everything just clicks. It was mostly just going through the motions.
The atmosphere is enough to keep the game compelling despite this, and the puzzles are not boring, they just didn’t engage me as much as I had hoped from a puzzler. They were a textbook example of good, but not great.
The best way to recommend Nihilumbra is to ask if you liked Limbo. If you did, even a little, I’m sure you will find something to enjoy in this game. If that title was not your cup of tea, however, then I doubt there is much in Nihilumbra to keep you interested unless you find the art direction that much more compelling.