Nihilumbra is a platform puzzler that hit the App Store back in 2012. It's beautiful. It's melancholy. It calls into question your very existence. And it's now available on Nintendo Switch.
If you've never played the game, you're in for a real treat. If you've already tried to escape the Void, this version is fairly identical to its many-platformed predecessors, but now you can play it on Switch!
Should I stay or should I go?
You're controlling Born, a dark entity that has found himself in a new place with lots of new things to learn. He traverses five different landscapes and learns special powers that can be activated by five different colors.
It's not all custard and blueberries for Born, however. He's being chased — chased by the very thing that he was born from, which is now destroying everything new he has learned from; The Void.
As you move from one screen to the next, you'll help Born use his new skills to avoid being attacked by Skeltogoth and Crawlaggars.
As Born grows, he starts to want to live, want to exist. It's your job to help him through this emotionally difficult time (are you seeing a theme here?).
Ultimately, Nihilumbra tells an existential story that allows us to question life through the eyes of a being that has never really know what it is to be alive until it is being destroyed before its eyes.
Don't be lulled by the easy-going pace
Nihilumbra is part platformer and part puzzle-solving. You roam a 2D landscape in search of meaning. You must jump over bottomless caverns, navigate patterns of platforms, and avoid very scary sounding monsters. You also have to figure out which color you need to get from one place to another, how to lower beams, and when you should just run.
The unique aspect of Nihilumbra is the use of painting colors to allow you to perform different physical feats. Without giving too much away, you will learn, for example, the ability to paint ice on the ground, which will allow you to speed up or send your enemies over cliffs. As the story unfolds, you'll learn a new color from each new environment.
You'll use some of your reaction skills to avoid ranged attacks and some of your logic skills to solve puzzles.
The entire five environments — the part of the game that tells the story of Born — is relatively easy to complete. If you're a fan of difficult platformers, you might even think it's too easy.
You'd be wrong.
Your reward for completing all five worlds and helping Born navigate this new existence is that you'll unlock Void Mode, which is an epic difficulty increase that will make you sweat.
Void Mode sends you back through the game, but you're being chased by The Void the entire time. It's sort of like dropping you onto a Super Mario Bros. airship and peppering it with Limbo puzzles while the demon monkeys from Temple Run are chasing you - and it all looks like the Upside-Down from Stranger Things.
Don't assume that your game is over once you complete the five worlds. That part of the game is just preparing you for the real storm.
ABXY and touch combined
Nihilumbra was originally designed for mobile devices with a touchscreen. As the game has been ported to different devices, like PC and Mac, the developers have adjusted how you paint the colors you learn to use, mapping the painting controls to a mouse.
The Switch brings the game full circle by combining the elements of touchscreen gameplay by having you paint the screen by touch with the use of controller buttons to move and access different colors.
I started off playing Nihilumbra with my Switch docked in TV mode and was overjoyed to see the beautiful graphics on my big screen. Just a few minutes later, however, I realized that I'd need to have access to the touchscreen in order to actually play the game.
It's a small complaint, but I do wish there was a way to map a pointer to one of the controls for painting the colors instead of having to play the game in tablet position.
It is still a fantastic and fun game with genuine replayability but doesn't really feel much different than playing on my iPhone.
The truth is out there
I still love playing Nihilumbra, even five years after it first appeared on the mobile gaming market. It's beauty and game design still holds up well, and the fact that it is easily transposed to multiple platforms is evidence of its lasting foundation.
If you already own Nihilumbra on another device, you're not getting anything new or special on Switch. If you own it on iPhone, you'll probably blink twice at the $7.99 price tag.
If you've never played Nihilumbra, however, and you like platform puzzle games, this one will give you a run for your money. It's got a compelling story, unique gameplay, and solid replayability. The end is just the beginning in Nihilumbra.
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