'Nihilumbra' Wii U Review: Bring A Friend To Ease Your Depression In This Beautiful (But Bleak) Game

By Alex Riviello , Updated May 26, 2015 10:27 AM EDT
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At first glance it might be easy to write off Nihilumbra as yet another Limbo clone. After all, it’s got the style of that influential game that everyone seems to ape nowadays, yet another puzzle-platformer that’s dark, nihilistic, and loves to kill you any way it can. But play it a bit and you’ll realize that its influences go back farther, to the alien landscapes of Another World and Abe's Oddysee, a journey fraught with strife, darkness, and hungry creatures.

You play a creature called Born, who has broken off from the nothingness of The Void. You are a stranger to this world and your absence from the Void has not gone unnoticed.

As you journey through the world your progress is documented by a Godlike narrator, whose echoey, dark voice tells you what you should be feeling. It’s generally never anything good- you are literally nothing, after all- and the narration almost feels like another obstacle to overcome. You have to push past everything despite his negativity.

At the end of each series of levels you’ll be pursued by the endless Void, which devours everything it comes in contact with. This leaves you to realize that each new area you explore will eventually be destroyed because of your contact with it. You ruin everything with your contact.

So yeah, it’s not exactly a feel-good game. It’s got some remarkably dark, deep thoughts in its plot and actively discourages you not to finish it, but it isn't only darkness in the game- there's also hope and light. Each new location also hides a color inside it, one which can be brushed on the world (using the Wii U Gamepad's touchscreen) in order to change it. The color blue, for instance, will ice up floors and speed your progress. Red can be brushed onto floors to create hazardous environments for the many alien creatures that hinder your progress, Brown can be used to stick to surfaces, and so on. Later levels require you to utilize multiple colors to continue, and the game really finds its footing once they're all unlocked and it leaves it up to you for how to progress through this haunting, beautiful game.

Co-op does change some things. Rather than change the colors of the environment yourself, you can grab a Wii remote and solely control the character, leaving your friend to switch between colors and aid your progress with the Gamepad. It’s certainly not as interesting to play as a paint brush, but the game requires an intense amount of cooperation and split-second timing to get past some obstacles. Bringing a friend also has the side effect of lessening the bleak feeling of the game. Rather than trying to figure out the meaning of your own lonesome existence you’re learning to rely on help from your friends. It’s strange that this mode can completely change the lesson of the game, but there it is.

Regardless of whether you try it solo or play it with a friend, you can beat this game in less than five hours, which will unlock a vicious challenge mode for the campaign, Void Mode. Select this mode on any of the levels of the game and you'll find them now crammed full of more creatures and things to kill you. These are genuinely tough and you’re a better gamer than I if you manage to get your way through it. Achievements are available for defeating the levels in both modes, as well as some other challenges, and you can also unlock portions of an art gallery. So there's lot of little extras for those who get sucked into the world. 

Nihilumbra is a really wonderful game, and this may be the best version of it yet. The mobile versions are rightly acclaimed but touch-screen only controls can only take you so far, and co-op really does add a whole new dimension to the story. Another indie gem for the Nintendo eShop. 

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Nihulumbra was reviewed from a Wii U code provided by BeautiFun Games. It’s available right now via the Nintendo eShop.

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