I had seen and heard things about Nihilumbra, I was playing other things and hadn’t even thought about asking to review it, but when I was offered the chance, I accepted and started playing it after finishing off other stuff. This is how it went.
The game launched and I was treated to some lovely artwork. The drawn backgrounds beautifully blended with the rest of the scene, the ambient sounds were sublime and then, you are born.
Just a blob of dense, wispy black smoke who has escaped from the Void, but it wants you back and you don’t want to go back, you want to live and be free, that is, if you don’t end up suffering from depression after listening to the narration.
It’s like the Void is trying to force you into submission by bringing you down with its emo-like phrases, that’s why I feel this game should come with a trigger warning as it shouldn’t be played by manic depressives. You may think I’m joking, but just look at the included screenshots, the text within them is read out in a low, depressing voice.
I reached about halfway and I had to stop playing. I’m as mentally stable as they come, I’ve never suffered from depression, yet after around ninety minutes of constant put-downs, I just couldn’t go on. Does that mean the narrative is doing its job? If it’s to make you feel defeated to the point you’re contemplating self-harm, maybe it’s doing it too well.
The art of the game is amazing, nicely detailed and provides the right setting for the atmosphere and it’s because of that, you become so immersed. You’re drawn into the world that, while you don’t feel directly associated with the character you’re controlling, you kind of feel sorry for him.
While the gameplay is simple (it’s mostly just left, right and jump), it’s repetitive. Each level has eight stages, you go through the stages until you reach the one with the new colour and you’re transported to a stage which teaches you how to use that colour’s power. The last stage is when you need to combine the powers in order to escape the impending Void.
Don’t mistake Nihilumbra for one of those experience games, there is an actual game in there to play and not just a sequence of events to tell a story. While the main gameplay is fairly easy, it’s when you reach that last stage to try to outrun the Void and need to summon all your colour power knowledge that will decide whether you win or be sucked back in to nothing.
The second half of the game does lighten up a little and is less depressing, although there is still some darkness around the narration, the text becomes somewhat more philosophical and sometimes perplexing. It’s mostly just random comments about what’s happening in the game though, but said in some attempt to be deep and meaningful.
It’s an enjoyable game that should come with a trigger warning, it starts off easy on the mind, but if you’re not careful, it could set off a bout of depression and while that isn’t the developers intention, it’s a possibility. If you ignore the emo, philosophical narration and look at it purely as a game, you will see it’s just a platform-puzzler and not a bad one at that.
As an experience, it can be enjoyable. The art and animation is superb, the ambient music stays relevant and you’re treated to something that’s short and sweet. You won’t finish some of the last stages in one go and that’s not so bad as there are many checkpoints throughout, you don’t know what’s coming and which colour to select to keep going.
Outrunning the Void means you have to make use of the colours and their power, but it’s not as easy as it seems. You need to make big jumps, connect electricity while moving constantly. BeautiFun say they want to bring us fun games in a beautiful way, maybe Nihilumbra wasn’t the best way to carry out that notion, your first game defines what you bring to the industry, let’s hope future games aren’t so dark.