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Nihilumbra review for PS Vita


Platform: PS Vita
Also On: Wii U, iOS
Publisher: BeautiFun
Developer: BeautiFun
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E

At first glance, it seems like Nihilumbra isn’t so much a game as a collection of quirks and traits from other games. A graphic style that recalls Limbo (albeit a slightly more colourful version of Limbo). Dokuro’s touch-based gameplay mechanics. A narrator throwing insults at you that sound like they’re cribbed from Stealth Inc., if Stealth Inc. were given a heavy dose of Braid’s mysterious philosophizing. Basically, you could be forgiven for feeling like you’re playing a greatest hits of puzzle-platformers, rather than a game that brings anything new to the table.

I’m not going to lie: that feeling never goes away entirely. The game is introducing new mechanics right up until its last chapter, and its dark nihilism continues even after the final credits have rolled, so everything in the above paragraph is sustained from start to finish.

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Midway through the game, though, Nihilumbra stops feeling like a collection of other games and starts standing up on its own merits. There’s no specific point or anything; it just kind of happens that you realize, regardless of whether it’s heavily influenced by other games or not, it’s actually pretty fun.

It helps tremendously, of course, that the aforementioned touch-based mechanics work extremely well. Regardless of whether you’re spreading fire around the ground beneath enemies, connecting one electrical box to another to make platforms work, or zipping along the ground as you create a path of ice with your finger, it always feels natural, rather than gimmicky. You never get the sense that touch controls were added on just because it was something the developers could do — and anyone who doubts that need only spend a minute or two trying to switch from one power to another via the shoulder buttons.

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Likewise, the visual style may feel a little — and at times a lot — like Limbo, but the further in you get the more you realize that those dashes of colour make a big difference. Each colour represents something new, and bit by bit, they give Nihilumbra a personality all its own.

It’s not all great, mind you. The philosophizing narrator definitely gets a little annoying after awhile, particularly in sections where you’re feeling your way through; hearing the same few words over and over again can really grate on the nerves. Not only that, it makes the game feel like it’s taking itself far too seriously. I mean, considering we’re talking about a game where you’re trying to escape The Void, that makes some sense, but every so often you wish the game would lighten up even a little bit.

A little nihilism can be excused when the end result is so enjoyable. What’s a little harder to take, however, is the game’s length: you can beat it easily in under five hours. There is an extra mode that you can unlock after beating the game, and it does ramp up the difficulty significantly, but if we’re looking just at the main game, there’s no way around it: it’s pretty short.

Considering how huge my backlog is and how many games I start only to never finish, though, I can’t say I mind the brevity all that much. There’s something to be said for showing up, doing your thing, and leaving, rather than trying to artificially inflate a game’s length without adding anything new. Nihilumbra is proof positive that a game can be short and still be indispensable, and if you like platformers, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Grade: A