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Nihilumbra Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . Let me introduce you to 2015's most inspirational PS Vita game. Nihilumbra is a story-driven puzzler starring a nameless hero racked with self-doubt. The gameplay may be simple and the puzzles are occasionally too easy, but this charming platformer is worth playing for the story alone. Rating: 71%
Nihilumbra
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  • Review Score:

  • B
Despite not having a name or much of a back story, I had no problem connecting to the shape-shifting star of Nihilumbra. At its core, this is a story about breaking free of self-doubt and finally seeing the world clearly for the first time. It's about defining who you are and overcoming the negative thoughts in your head. This new PS Vita game delivers more than cleverly designed puzzles; it also offers an inspirational message with real character development.

Nihilumbra revolves around a small black blob that escapes the void in an attempt to define himself in a new colorful world. He does this by taking a new identity (in this case it's a completely different shape) and setting off on an adventure of discovery that will take him from the snowy mountainside cliffs to the urban jungle that is a modern city. And because this is a video game, he'll learn a valuable lesson every step of the way.



Each of the game's five worlds adds a new power that will help our hero defeat enemies and solve puzzles. Players use the PS Vita's touchscreen to paint floors and walls with different colors, each representing a different type of ability. For example, we're given the blue ice ability in the Frozen Cliffs, allowing the character to slide faster and make large leaps. Speaking of jumps, the green color found in the Living Forest allows players to jump high up into the air.

Some of the colors are powerful enough to negatively affect the enemies. By using the brown color from the Ash Desert, our hero can slow down nearly every villain that stands in his path. What's more, the Volcano's powerful red paint will engulf enemies in flames. Players will need to master all five abilities in order to solve the game's many puzzles and triumph over self-doubt.

Nihilumbra (PS Vita)Click For the Full Picture Archive

While the player may be emotionally invested in seeing our hero succeed, that is certainly not true of the game's narrator. Presumably there to represent the nameless character's inner-struggle, the narrator is full of uncertainty and pessimism. He takes every opportunity to discourage this journey of self-discovery, to the point where the negativity could be off-putting to some people. These cruel words begin to make way towards optimism as our hero gains confidence and overcomes obstacles.

As a puzzle platformer, Nihilumbra is fairly straight forward. There's little to the gameplay beyond walking left to right, jumping and using the colorful paint to make it through all five worlds. Most of the puzzle solving is done using the Vita's touchpad, with the buttons there to make switching colors easier. It's obvious that this game started its life as an iOS title for mobile devices.

While the game does an excellent job mixing up the types of puzzles, I was disappointed by Nihilumbra's soft difficulty. There are a few real head-scratchers towards the end of the game, but most puzzles can be completed in the first or second try. And with only five areas, it won't take more than a few hours to complete the story mode. The good news is that beating the game unlocks a second mode, which offers a series of levels with more challenging puzzles. This helps add some replay, but it would have been nice to see some of these taxing puzzles mixed into the main campaign.

Nihilumbra (PS Vita)Click For the Full Picture Archive

Even if the game isn't as challenging as I would have liked, I was never disappointed by Nihilumbra's visuals. The silhouette of everything that comes out of the void is a gorgeous artistic choice. It not only makes the main character visually interesting, but helps many types of enemies stand out in front of the hand-drawn backgrounds. The game also makes good use of weather effects, something you don't see a lot of in this style of puzzle platformer.

Despite the short run time, I was riveted to the game's story and narrative device. As somebody who has dealt with his own share of self-confidence issues, it was easy to connect with the lead's counterproductive inner-monologue. Nihilumbra manages to get character growth right, something that many games have a problem delivering on. Even if the puzzles are too easy and the gameplay is simple, the emotional payoff is worth the journey.
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