I’m kind of surprised there weren’t more indie games with strong narrators released in the wake of Bastion. Then again, it’s probably a good thing because strong narrators require excellent writing and voice acting. That didn’t stop the people behind Nihilumbra from taking a swing at it, along with a pretty unique gimmick to form puzzles with. The gimmick definitely worked out better than the narrator, honestly, but all told their efforts formed a very solid puzzle platformer.
You play a sentient piece of the Void, the nothingness that inevitably consumes all of existence. As you progress through the many regions of the world, the unnamed narrator describes how your little Voidperson learns of emotions and hope and all that jazz. Unfortunately, Mr. Narrator has a real bad case of never-shut-the-hell-up-itis early on, delivering some seriously overwrought lines almost every single screen. While many of them are the tiresome “You are nothing” or “They are coming” sorts, the writing does improve the further you get in, which was a welcome discovery.
The actual platforming revolves around painting the world with the colors you find. Each region you travel to grants you a color to use, such as the blue from the snowfields that makes surfaces icy and slick. Levels are laid out in a way that eases you into learning how your new color works, showing you how to combine it with other colors, and then testing you in auto-scrolling escape sequences before moving on to the next land. The puzzles are all clever and fun to solve without being repetitive or particularly challenging. One nice feature is how the game keeps giving you new powers right up to the final stage, so there’s always something to look forward to.
The reason for this is a Void Mode unlocked once you beat the game, which consists of remixes of the base levels. In stark contrast to the originals these start out incredibly hard and only grow more ludicrous. If I have one complaint about Nihilumbra, it’s that there’s really no Normal difficulty. The base game is practically a two-hour tutorial, and Void Mode is the Dark World from Super Meat Boy. I doubt that most will have the patience to plow through Void Mode, but honestly the two hours I spent in the base game were enough to make me happy. The art is clean and creative and the platforming, while a bit floaty, is a good match for the color gimmick. For charming or challenging puzzle platforming, this one fits the bill just fine.