Sawbuck Gamer

Nihilumbra

Avoid The Void

Nihilumbra presents puzzles both prosaic and cosmic.

By Ryan Smith • August 14, 2012

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less) game.

There’s a reason why Waiting For Godot: The Video Game was never a blockbuster. Imagine a Super Mario game where Mario and Luigi sit around World 1-1 and exchange chin-scratching philosophical musings about the meaning of the Mushroom Kingdom. Lame, right? That doesn’t seem to scare off the creators of Nihilumbra, a puzzle game that proudly wears its Sartre on its sleeve.

You begin the game as a shapeless black blob emerging from a hellish place of darkness called The Void into a new world of dense forests, harsh deserts, and haunting caves. The Void hates your ambition and the humanoid form you’ve morphed into, so it sends out shadowy creatures to force you “home.” Self-actualization for your character comes in the form of colors that accent your all-consuming darkness. White, for instance, grants the ability to summon ice, and green creates spongy bounce pads. Meanwhile, a narrator alternates between encouragement and hopelessness. Could the voice be your own conflicted inner thoughts, or is it the omniscient creator of The Void?

Melancholy isn’t a mood evoked often in video games, but indie darlings like Braid and Bastion have both proven that it can be done when orchestrated with a deft touch. Nihilumbra follows in the footsteps of those games by striking the right balance between brooding existentialism and the joy of discovery.

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966 Responses to “Avoid The Void”

  1. doyourealize says:

    So am I reading this right? A mobile game carries the same kind of weight as a game like Braid or Bastion? If so, I’ll keep this on the watch list, if it one day comes out for Android.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      That.
      I was writing a whole thing that basically said the same, damn you… :P

    • caspiancomic says:

       Every time someone writes the word ‘Bastion’ my head whips around to face the nearest computer like a dog hearing its master’s cry in the distance.

    • George_Liquor says:

      Hmm, I might check this out. It would be nice for a change to play something with a little more emotional impact than Angry Birds.

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        Oh, you’ll be sorry when a “scholar” publishes The Zen of Angry Birds and delineates just how weighty those birds are (especially that fat bomber). Actually, that sounds like the sort of article you might find here at Gameological, one part tongue-in-cheek, one part foot-in-mouth, one part dead-on. :)

        • stakkalee says:

          “Because, like, the pigs represent the death of innocence, man, see, and the birds are trying to protect their kids from, like, the horrors of war and shit.  Hey, pass me that joint, man.”

          Please note – I’ve never played Angry Birds.

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      Ditto, except I’m waiting for Steam. (If Swords and Sworcery can do it, why not this one?)

  2. caspiancomic says:

    Oh man, when I saw the dreary screengrab and the words The Void meaningfully capitalized on the home page my heart sank: I thought somebody had gone behind my back and written an all-encompassing article on the Ice-Pick Lodge game. It’s good to know I still have dibs on writing about that particular title, not least of all because nobody else wants it.

    • TomElman says:

      At you your recommendation i watched that whole lp for the void, and i thought the same exact thing when i same the title and the bits of color.

      i don’t think i would have the stamina to play through that whole game, the mechanics look kinda wonky and glitchy and it gets awfully repetitive in parts, but watching someone else take the slog was a good thought provoking time. i’m still not sure what it means for him to (spoilers i guess) elevate a girl instead of himself. does that mean that he dies and she come fully formed into the world?

  3. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    I’m sure there are more games that excel in melancholy beyond the two most cited indie games ever, but I’m kind of drawing a blank. Majora’s Mask, maybe? New Vegas, sort of? Help me out here.

    • Girard says:

       Adam Cadre’s Photopia proceeds through a number of rich emotional tones, one of which is a kind of heartsinking melancholia that comes in late in the game and kind of colors everything that preceded it.

      The third most cited indie game ever, Limbo, could be described by some as an exercise in melancholy.

      Indie games are a bit like indie comics. As a form demanding an awful lot of solitary slaving in front of a screen or drafting board, they tend to attract (or encourage) the more morbid and socially damaged creative types.

    • Fixda Fernback says:

      I feel like someone always brings this game up lately, so, sorry to be that guy… but, Dark Souls definitely gives me a feeling of melancholy and despair.

    • Xtracurlyfries says:

      Dear Esther. It’s nothing but melancholy. Weird, affecting melancholy.

    • George_Liquor says:

       How about Ecco The Dolphin? It’s about the earliest game I’ve played that went for a purposeful sense of ennui, and succeeded.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        I could never play Ecco. It always creeped me out. I’m terrified of ocean life and just about any underwater level in a game. It does seem like a very moody game from what I remember though.