You were born from the Void but now it is out to get you. Control Born through the world of Nihilumbra on his journey to discover himself and escape his curse. Poor Born is doomed to be forever pursued by the nothingness that created him. As he discovers more about himself and the world around him, The Void closes in on him, destroying everything in its path, everything in the world, everything that Born has seen and found. But Born is strong. While the voice tells him – tells you – that he is nothing, Born discovers that he is alive, and he wants to stay alive and will keep running no matter what The Void destroys in its wake. Born wants to live and he’s going to fight to do it.
The story is certainly a dark one and the voice of the narrator is a constant reminder of Born’s grim existence, and yet there’s a spark of something inspirational here, something meaningful that is beyond the usual jolly platformer’s tale. The storytelling in Nihilumbra is more akin to that of Limbo, Never Alone or The Unfinished Swan. Take from it what you will but I saw an ordinary person, born from nothingness, wreaking havoc as humans do within their lifetimes and trying to outrun one of life’s only inevitables – death.
Nihilumbra is a puzzle platformer. The Void chases Born through five regions of Nihilumbra. Within each of these regions he discovers a different colour. Each colour has a different property, a different way of helping him navigate the land and overcome the monsters and obstacles in his way. Each time he discovers and uses a colour, he learns a little bit more about himself, and his will to live grows stronger. You’ll need to bypass or kill enemies, open gates and jump ledges. In the first area, the Frozen Cliffs, Born discovers blue and how it can make the ground icy and slippery. This is where the Vita proudly puffs out its little chest and presents its touch controls. Paint the colour on a surface using fingertip and screen and Born can do a bit of skating. Now he can use that colour to help him traverse the Frozen Cliffs. The colour blue will allow Born to gather speed along a surface and jump higher. It will also cause the monster chasing him to slip and fall to its death down the hole Born has just smoothly soared over. As Born makes it to the end of the level, The Void catches up and chases him through the last few sections. Use your coordination and the colour blue to slip, slide, jump and outrun the pursuing darkness. If he makes it, Born’s journey will continue on to the Living Forest, Ash Desert, Volcano, The City and four more colours, challenges and personal revelations.
The main story mode is easily and quickly completed. The puzzles and platforming aren’t hard, and the experience feels more about the story and the metaphor. I guess it’s not called story mode for nothing. It’s a weirdly relaxing and therapeutic few hours that I’m happy to say I enjoyed immensely. Even though he clearly needs a rousing slap or an intravenous dose of Prozac, the narrator’s foreboding voice is a nice soundtrack to the jumping and puzzling. The story mode is all about atmosphere. Sit back and enjoy a gentle experience, complete the game and smile when your trophy pops. Then try Void Mode and feel the grin slide from your smug chops.
Void Mode unlocks when you complete the main game. All five areas open back up and you’re given the option of choosing any area you want and any of the new puzzles within them. Some of them are easyish and some of them make you want to ask the narrator if you can borrow his prescription. Void Mode is where the challenge is. Unlike story mode, you are often handicapped by a devilish flower that sucks up the very colour that would normally help you overcome a particular problem. You must think carefully about the obstacles and your remaining colours. If you can’t complete a level, simply go back to the menu and select another. As this is a port of a very successful IOS/Android game, there are plenty of walkthroughs on YouTube if you get stuck.
Nihilumbra is a damn fine little game. It has a nice batch of trophies and Void Mode supplies enough challenging content to keep you out of mischief for quite some time. Traditional platforming combined with spot-on touch controls, the Vita was made for games like this. Nihilumbra is well worth your time and consideration. Expect highly addictive and challenging gameplay with a beautiful storytelling technique.
S J Hollis Rating – 8/10