Too often, iOS games are dismissed as thoughtless cash-ins or stripped down versions of other titles – a rep it’s earned to a certain degree. But every now and then, a title like Nihilumbra (universal) comes along and reminds us why we play video games, a creative and highly ambitious puzzle-platformer that not only challenges players to think about puzzles, but to think about life.
Nihilumbra is the journey of Born, a piece of anti-matter whose is trying to escape The Void, the all-encompassing darkness that gave birth to him. In many ways, the game’s story is a philosophic one, telling its narrative through text that appears on-screen while players are traversing the hauntingly beautiful landscapes.
Through the game, Born gains the use of different ‘colors’ that are used to manipulate different pieces of the environment to solve puzzles, like moving blocks or outsmarting enemies. It’s a familiar style of trial-and-error platforming, but the color mechanic gives it a fresh feel, encouraging players to experiment with the different abilities gained by drawing lines of color on the sparse environments.
There are two different control schemes for players to choose from. I found the virtual joystick a breeze to use, but the game also features a unique tilt-based system for moving and jumping. I found tilting while trying to draw on the screen could prove to be somewhat awkward at times, but there is a certain sense of accomplishment when solving a difficult puzzle using the more physically active control scheme.
But more than its great gameplay, Nihilumbra‘s brilliant aesthetics separate it from the many other solid titles in the genre. The music and intricate animations are unparalleled in the App Store, and really goes a long way to establish the game’s solemn, moody atmosphere. The narration early on is a little cliched and heavy-handed, but as the game progresses, it becomes more focused and poignant.
When video games are at their best, they are blending their atmosphere, gameplay mechanics, and story all into one fluid, thought-provoking experience. Nihilumbra (universal) is an example of this, a beautiful, moving story that explores the ideas of identity, home, and self in ways most video games, console or mobile, don’t approach. An easy recommendation for any serious gamer or fan of puzzle platformers, and those looking for an example of video games as art.