Been There, Done That
Playing as a blob running from the void, a purple fog that absorbs everything it touches, the goal is ultimately to get from one side of the screen to the other. Like Limbo or Typoman, Nihilumbra, a $7.99 digital download, is a moody puzzle platformer with a distinct visual presentation. Unfortunately, puzzle elements repeat constantly throughout the 2-3 hour campaign and the narration isn’t nearly as strong as games like Bastion.
Just about every screen features dialog narration by an ominous voice that either explains what is happening or what is about to happen. However, this voice work is rather lacking and often doesn’t even sync with that the player is doing. More often than not, I was already on the next screen and the next round of dialog before the previous screen’s narration was finished. This brings down the presentation and gameplay as I was able to move faster than the game.
The main gimmick behind this slow-paced 2D platformer is the color system. In time, the player will collect colors that unlock abilities. For example, the blue color allows the player to lace the ground with ice to increase traversal speed or push blocks. Brown makes things stick and lets the player walk without making noise. Tracing the ground or walls in green makes things bounce. Red is used offensively to burn enemies to death and yellow sparks electricity to power machines. Unfortunately, the puzzle elements are never difficult, which is fine, but they are used repeatedly. In fact, one of the first puzzles the player must solve is a block pushing puzzle, because, you know, pushing blocks in a 2018 game has never been done before and is always super fun, right? This would have been fine if it happened once, but the player will push many blocks before the credit roll. Or lay down the brown sticky stuff to sneak around a sleeping Venus fly trap. Or jump on the green stuff to bounce to the next platform or ricochet a bullet to kill an enemy that moves back and forth constantly. The puzzle variety becomes stale within minutes as the player uses these abilities in the same way throughout the entire but brief quest.
One problem with Nihilumbra on Switch is the control scheme. Thing is, the player MUST use the touch screen as the game cannot be played in the docked mode. Not knowing this, the first time I fired up the game, I was playing connected to my TV using a Pro Controller. However, when I found the first blue power, the screen indicated that I needed to touch the screen, forcing me to get up, undock the Switch, and play in handheld mode. Worse yet, I had to unsync the Pro Controller and resync by Joy Cons which actually forced me to restart my system. Needless to say, this was super annoying and the game doesn’t even warn the player that this game can only be played in non-docked mode. Holding the Switch with the left hand while tapping the screen with the right hand also become difficult to hold in a short amount of time and sometimes tracing the colors on screen is inaccurate.
Once the quest is completed, the player will unlock a new mode that ups the difficulty, mostly to the point of frustration, but ultimately acts as more of the same. There is also an option to view some artwork from the main menu but this is holds little to no entertainment value whatsoever.
As a port of an iOS game from 2012, playing this Switch version here in 2018 isn’t that much fun. The repeating puzzles, the forced gimmicky touch controls, and the broken narration contains just enough incentive to complete the quest but don’t expect to return or make any memories along the way.
Also available on pretty much every other system with a touch screen except for 3DS.