When I’d awaken from a terrible nightmare ranging from Stephen King to Donatello from the Ninja Turtles yodeling in my shower, two questions would spring to mind before I get my wits back. Those questions are “Who am I?” and “What the heck am I doing here?”. As I’d lay back recovering from the shock, I would begin to think that the concept of an unknown being would make an epic video game. It seemed at first as though no one was listening, because games with shaky camera angles have dominated recent franchises. To my shock though, a developer has tapped into my frontal cortex and developed a game that takes familiar titles and bounces off of their foundation to make a succulent new puzzle platformer that many will underestimate because explosions don’t riddle the screen like excessive confetti. This fresh fun title is known as Nihilumbra.
Upon playing Nihilumbra, one factor will become apparent very quickly. The team at BeautiFun Games have played a few video games in their lifetime and they love what they’ve seen in those virtual worlds. Evidence is splattered all throughout this graphical holiness because all the aspects that make some video games as tedious as tax returns are not in Nihilumbra. There are no scavenger hunts that have you repeatedly going back and forth and mind-numbingly talking to NPCs. There aren’t any extremely difficult quick time events. There certainly isn’t an online lobby filled with people that the dictionary could use as definitions under “ill-advised”. It is hard to judge what the game actually is based off of screenshots and video previews because it’s a different kind of game, one that sucks the player into the void of excitement. Unlike other games taking on the role of interactive movies, you are a being in this world called Born.
As Born, I was created by a mystical dark entity called The Void that was chasing me, bent on capturing and killing me as I raced through the environments. I, also known as Born, somehow escaped the clutches of this void and was now to embark on a quest to learn who I was, why was I created, and what my destiny held in store for me.
Throughout the game, a voice that could rival any commercial voiceover relayed hints about who I was, tidbits about my being and soul, as well as providing hints for puzzles. It was an interesting concept that soon had me playing just to learn every facet of my being and purpose. The story is an unexpected psychological mind warp that will immediately snatch up a player’s attention and hog it, teasing with intriguing misnomers that will soon give way to a desire to learn what the truth is and what sort of lies hide in this brain bath.
Traveling through the five puzzling levels was the icing on top of the very gripping story. As I traversed through icy mountains, forests, caves, deserts, and a city, I was met with a barrage of challenges that would make an IQ test weep. Using the keyboard and mouse I was to paint my way through this sidescroller using colors to interact with my environment and enemies. Each stage introduces a new color, and they are all imbued with specific properties. For example, painting blue on a surface makes it slippery. The slick ground is perfect for making running jumps go further. Once you have gained access to a color, it remains available to use.
Creativity is encouraged since there are more ways than one to take down enemies. This can be accomplished either by using the environment or getting through puzzles to find out the Bain of my existence. The will and determination to learn so many unknown aspects about my past, present, and future stretched my creativity to new heights. This game doesn’t have any mind-blowing special effects to gawk at so the desire to play will be solely through the story – a feat that is rare in today’s gaming warehouse. The added Void mode will test creativity even further with no story voiceover, new puzzles, and tougher familiar puzzles daring for a stimulating mental challenge.
The controls are simple and this allowed me to play with minimal problems. I did die an awful lot due to the precision. For disabled gamers, the boss sections will be the toughest parts. This is where The Void is in hot pursuit and the objective is to escape as the Void swallows up the left side of the screen. Along with the need for speed, disabled gamers will have to quickly paint and quickly switch to needed colors to manipulate objects and this isn’t easy since the game doesn’t pause when you switch colors. With my cerebral palsy, I had to modify Steam in order to finish the game. To overcome my particular accessibility challenges I used a wired Xbox controller to make painting a bit easier so I didn’t have to rely on friends.
The game does not have a colorblind mode so colorblind gamers will not be able to play the game independently. Even though colors can be chosen on a fixed selection by clicking on a tree branch that’s always at the top right of the screen it will be hard to memorize the colors and see where they have painted.
The accessibility solution I had to implement made it all that much more rewarding when I finished the game and had my mind blown so vehemently I immediately wanted to play the game again just to try and boost my creativity power.
With a story that will leave thought waves pulsating to the tune of the excellent writing, intriguing gameplay that breaches boundaries of immersion, and with a Wii U version that is much more accessible for those with physical disabilities (as the controller will replace a mouse), Nihilumbra is a demonstration of how video games can immerse the player in storytelling, perception challenging gameplay, and memorable puzzles. These type of games can never be beat by mainstream titles, no matter how unique the fire particles get.
Accessibility Rating: 8/10