Why where you born Born?
The goal is the most important thing to me. To long for it, reach it, evaluate it and set up a new goal. The road, or more appropriately the journey is more important to others. People sitting back relaxing on the train, bikers watching the scenery flash by just cruising the back roads all share this sense of worth in just following a journey. At times games come along that makes me share that same sensation. Recently the aptly names Journey did this on the PS3. It made me distance myself from finding new goals, and just follow the currently active emotion. I did not expect a game with such a wonky, hard to say or remember name such as Nihilumbra to hold the same kind of emotional impact.
Nihilumbra tells the story of a creature born from the void, or rather trying to escape from the void. The name of the creature is Born since that is all that is known, and no others are around to suggest any other name. Beside Born there is the void where nothing can live, and thoughts go to die. The void chases Born in the same kind of slow menacing way that night chases our bird protagonist in Tiny Wings. Nihilumbra is by no means an endless runner, or Tiny Wings kind of game. It is rather a combination of a puzzle platformer, relaxation application and personal reflection experience.
The controls consist of a slider to move Born left, and right. There is a tilt scheme as well, but for the iPad that felt rather hard to wield. A jump button gives Born the ability to do a feeble leap not that long, or high. Each world Born travels through escaping the void gives a new colour magic to help Born progress. Void is used to remove any of the other powers. Ice is used to give Born speed to make longer jumps over chasms. It is also used to enable heavy crates to glide when pushed. The green power is actually a rubber bounce power allowing Born to jump as high as the first leap done. There are a couple of more powers, but I don’t want to spoil more than I have to. Almost all powers can be used offensively in some way as well.
The puzzles found in Nihilumbra are generally slowly paced, and consist of getting either Born over an obstacle or getting rid of an enemy. With plenty of checkpoints there is seldom a need to replay longer sections if Born dies, or you mess up a puzzle. Each world end with the void chasing Born like a wall of nothingness. These are the hardest parts of the game, as it demands you to move quickly. There are puzzles along the way that have to be solved in motion. At times the controls feel kind of sluggish during these chases. Especially selecting magic using the pull out menu in the top right corner. I would have liked a quicker way to change magic for these moments. There are also some puzzles in the final world that are hard as nails mostly due to the controls being more suited to the slower paced segments of the game.
So what is so special about Nihilumbra that it makes me compare it to a PS3 gem like Journey? From the beginning to the end you get to follow the birth of a creature not too unlike us humans. Born is confused at first, and feels worthless like the void that created it. All of the evolution of Born is shown in texts that are brilliantly written. All the snippets are to the core packing immense emotional impact without becoming pretentious. It is a joy to just sit for a bit reading the story, watching the enigmatic Born in the environment currently object for the travels. Unlike Journey Nihilumbra doesn’t leave much to the imagination, as everything is written down. Still how you interpret what is written is a highly personal experience.
The presentation is quite good even though the game could do with a bit more polish, and some proper retina resolution for the New iPad. Still the slightly fuzzy textures help telling the story, and sometimes that is more important than polish. I rather have an unpolished diamond in my hand than a shiny turd.
The music is low key, and quite forgettable. Still it is there to just give a bit of ambience without guiding the story, or interpretation of it.
Nihilumbra is one of those games that are more about the emotional experience than the actual gameplay. Sure there are some ok puzzles, and there are certainly some excitement when the void chases Born. Still it is the messages, the confusion and the evolution of Born that packs the punch.
Nihilumbra $2.99 Universal for iPad/iPhone/iPod
Seller: Beautifun Games SL