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Portabliss: Nihilumbra (iOS)


Did you know that you can download handheld games now? That's amazingly convenient! The only inconvenient part of it is finding the right games to buy -- and that's where we come in, with our Portabliss column. In each installment, we'll tell you about a downloadable game on the iPhone, iPad, Android device, DSi, 3DS, PSP, etc. Today: Nihilumbra.

Nihilumbra does its best to make you feel pretty worthless. As a black, undulating, vaguely human figure, you glide across the landscape, attempting to find meaning while also outrunning the void. As Nihilumbra reminds you consistently, you are part of the void, and you will be part of it again no matter how hard you try to outrun it.

I couldn't help but try though, because, as it turns out, the best way to evade an ever-approaching void is to solve simple physics puzzles.

Nihilumbra is the latest in a strange trend of puzzle platformers with dark, thought-provoking themes. As your character tries to find meaning in his existence, the narrator (presented only in snippets of text) reminds it that it isn't even alive, that it is merely of the void and must return. Even as it ponders the beauty of the world around it, desperately hoping to discover something to justify its existence, the narrator notes that the void will consume the very landscapes our hero treads, destroying the beauty it finds so intoxicating.

All of this serves as window dressing for Nihilumbra's central mechanic, which is to paint the landscape with various colors using the touch screen. New colors are discovered over time, each bestowing you with different abilities. An icy blue color, for instance, can be used to make surfaces slippery, allowing you gain extra momentum to run faster and jump further. A green color turns surfaces into rubber, enabling much higher jumps.

Beyond basic platforming challenges, you'll also use colors to solve puzzles. See an enemy you can't pass? Lure him to the edge of a pit you've painted blue and watch the monster slip and tumble off. Or, you might redirect the fire of a cannon by having it bounce off multiple surfaces that you've painted green. After completing the first two worlds of Nihilumbra, I haven't encountered any real brain-benders, but the pleasure of executing each puzzle is a reward on its own.

The presentation is icing on the cake, offering characters reminiscent of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet on top of colorful, beautiful environments. The visuals are accompanied by simple, haunting music that compliments the existential quandary faced by Nihilumbra's protagonist.

I still don't know if I'll be able to outrun the void in the end, but I'm itching to find out.

Nihilumbra is available for $2.99 on iTunes. We're always looking for new distractions. Want to submit your game for Portabliss consideration? You can reach us at portabliss aat joystiq dawt com.

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