I love mobile gaming for plenty of reasons, but if I had to pick just one it would be this: it never stops surprising me. Every week there's a dozen new things worth checking out, and every so often something special comes right out of nowhere. Nihilumbra [$2.99] is one of those games; I sat down to check it out and spent a handful of hours with a big, foolish grin plastered across my face. It's gorgeous, entertaining and clever. And that's before we get to the story.

The tale is told through text that becomes part of the environment, a lovely effect. It starts as so many do: you are born. But you're an oddity, a piece of the Void that wants to be free. And you succeed, slipping out of its grasp, but the Void won't let you go. And so begins the central conflict of Nihilumbra.

The Void sends creatures to reclaim you, and you must learn to defend yourself. There is nothing in your formless dark body to save you, so you reach out for anything to help. The world provides, giving you the power of color. This is the best part. Each world you explore has a color to share, and each color is a new power.

But the powers aren't only good for one stale function; you can use them for anything that might make sense. Blue, for instance, gives you the power of ice. You can lay down ice to speed up your movement, or to make a Void creature slide off an edge. You can also lay it down under something that would otherwise be too heavy to move. Paint paths of colors with your fingertips, then use your own Void power to erase them away.

By the time you reach the end of the rather melancholy story, you have many powers at your command. It can be quite a challenge to deploy them all correctly, to come up with all the ways you can combine them and use them against your enemies. And then the story approaches its satisfying conclusion, and you discover the whole thing was practically an extended tutorial leading up to the real challenge. That's when my mind was blown, and I learned I wasn't nearly prepared enough. Ride it out, you'll see what I mean.

When Nihilumbra becomes difficult, it doesn't do so reservedly. The final levels are insane, requiring you to have a full mastery of the colors at your command. They'll take quick reflexes and no small measure of cleverness if you're to work out the puzzles and reach your goals. The difficulty curve suffers as a result; too easy for too long, then far too hard, but it's well worth working your way through.

From an artistic point of view, though, the game is a tiny bit lacking. The backdrops are gorgeous, but they're also repetitive. The style is elegant, but a little derivative. The story is compelling, but the translation stumbles once or twice. And there are a few cliches brought to bear before the end.

But that's practically quibbling. Nihilumbra is a must-play game, whether you're in it for the story or the art, the puzzles or the platforming. They may not be the best individually, but they make a beautiful whole. And trust me when I say that you'll be well and truly challenged if you make it to the very end. You can judge Nihilumbra by its cover, but it's better in motion—far, far better. That's a pleasant surprise, wouldn't you say?

TouchArcade Rating

  • DefAde

    I don't know if i'm being stupid, but i cannot figure out from either reading the review or from watching that video, how exactly you play this game... Does the game character move on his own... do you move him with a virtual controller... do you tap the environment to get him to interact with it...???

    It seems from the video that the game character is moving around at the same time the player in 'painting' colours.. which seems somewhat complicated to play!

    • NissaCam

      Standard virtual buttons or tilt. It's not too difficult to paint while in the air (jumping/falling), but otherwise you might be able to pull it off with tilt.

  • metalcasket

    So damn deserving of a 4.5/5. 🙂

  • Birdie31

    I've only played it for about 45 minutes, but so far it's been amazing! The graphics are great, the story is interesting, and everything just seems so polished. Not only do I think that Nihilumbra is worth the $2.99, but I would say that it's in my top 25 iPhone games of all time. (My only real complaint is that they could have chosen an easier to remember name.)

  • ImJPaul

    Been meaning to get this. I thought it looked so interesting. Judging by all the reviews I'd say it's pretty much mutually appreciated by the iOS community. I'll gladly pay $3 for something that's worth it.

  • WooHoo1

    What's the difficulty level compared to something like Soosiz or Swordigo?  If it's difficult but doable like those from Touch Foo, I'll probably give it a go.  If it's pull-out-your-hair frustratingly difficult, I'll probably pass.

  • robmerrell

    I totally agree with the review. I picked up the game last night after reading about it on the forums and have been enjoying it so far. I love the art style and general mood of the game.

    It is a great game, but the name "Nihilumbra" is incredibly forgettable and difficult to spell right. I hope that sales don't suffer because of it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

    Finding a style that isn't at least a little derivative is next to impossible after decades of game design.

    Calling it Oddworld + Limbo wouldn't be a huge problem since neither are even available on a mobile platform and combining key elements from a few games to make a new one has been a popular and successful design method.

    I agree with the cliches and frankly it makes me cringe a little but like you said these are all minor quibbles and I wholeheartedly recommend this title to any platform puzzler fan.

  • WooHoo1

     I'm wondering how difficult the game is after the initial run-through?
    If it's comparable to Soosiz or Swordigo by TouchFoo (difficult, but not
    extreme), then I'll grab this one quick. But if it's
    pull-your-hair-out ridiculously hard, then I'd prefer to look elsewhere.
    Games should be difficult, but fun at the same time. And there's
    certainly a level where some cross the line and become unenjoyable.

    • NissaCam

      You can definitely have a satisfying experience without getting into the really hard stuff, but I did find it eventually ended up a little on the extreme challenge side.

      • WooHoo1

         Thanks for the reply! I think I'll hold off for now unless somebody else thinks the challenge isn't too severe.  I like to fulfill games to their completion and enjoy the challenge of doing so...but a game with too much of a challenge just isn't fun.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/EVDB4CEY2VSETDQEQZ6DEZK7AQ GameProfessor

        The main story is only a bit difficult. Fun and challenging just right to enjoy the game. However, after you finish the game, you unlock a newgame+. All level are remake with new puzzle and new enemies, and this mode is really really really hard !

  • sakara214ever

    A true Diamond!

  • LCB12321

    I'd probly have rated it 4.5 (or agreed with) but now that I'm Playing "Void" mode I can't see at as anything but a solid 5. The original game is the easy story mode version.... The real game starts is the second half where u have to go back and play everly level(all which are completely diff.) using all the skills uve collected. This part is tough but extremely entertaining... A combination of puzzle platforming with some of the extreme thinking Ive ever done playing a game...


    Your using all 5 colors together to complete nonstop ingenious mind-bending fun... For example the first level they drop u right next to one those infanfous enimies, it's no cakewalk. Some of these levels will leave even veteran gamers scratching their heads.

    I assumed the game wold be over after the first part and like most games I said to myself no I want more and they game it to me 10x over.

    The story is kind of preachy but it's not important... The second part let's u play without all that.....

    I dunno just think of the most of the wall obscure puzzles and it's there, it's like really I have to do that ? With that ? To get to that? When u figure it out u feel like a genius... I believe whoever created this games must have an extremely high IQ to come with this gameplay..

    This games deserves to be up for goty with it's only contenders being waking mars and sworidgo and I'll go ahead and predict Battleheart 2 and starcommand(if it ever comes out)

    Brilliant game, and unless someone's fully completed the "whole" game I take their reviews and commenets with a grain of salt...

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

      Swordigo is too damn short

  • beautifan

    if anyone having difficulty with the void mode, you can check out the walkthroughs here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9HPf59LAaE

  • Chubzdoomer

    This game is incredibly overrated. Nevermind the fact that its "story" lasts for just a couple hours -- Void Mode, which comes afterwards, simply isn't fun at all. It's far too difficult and reliant on trial and error. Whereas Story Mode is laughably easy, Void Mode is insanely hard from the moment you're dropped in. It's just, "Let's throw as many enemies at the player in as cramped areas as possible (including right up in his face when the screen scrolls so that he doesn't have enough time to react if he hasn't already been here before)."

    The whole game was average at best to me, especially after playing far better puzzle platformers like Braid, Limbo, and The Swapper. I don't understand why you guys are so nuts about it. It pales in comparison to the aforementioned games in nearly every way.

Nihilumbra Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 4.5