Published on July 27th, 2010 | by Cameron Woolsey
We live in an age of some pretty complicated games. Most modern games bombard gamers with colorful and realistic graphics while featuring a control scheme that uses dozens of different button variations that take time and effort to completely master–one of the reasons non-gamers have issues with games, but I digress. The point I’m trying to make is: sometimes, simpler is better. Perhaps this was the collective mantra in the minds of the people at Playdead Studios as they developed their latest game, Limbo.
Limbo is unique in that it acts as an antithesis to what we as gamers commonly expect out of our games these days. The game is completely black and white and our hero is a boy with no name, no voice, and no background; he only has a direction. Yet, even though Limbo has been stripped of bells, whistles, and gadgets, it still manages to succeed on a level that many tech-heavy games cannot manage. Limbo is challenging, beautiful, and an addicting game with a great art style and clever puzzles. Want to hear more? You don’t even need to ask.
The game is built around a system of trial and error. Players will be dropped into Limbo without any introduction or tutorial mode. You are expected to move forward and to learn the ways of the game without any handholding or clues. This will be an alien concept for many younger gamers. Older gamers, however, may immediately draw parallels to the challenging 1991 classic, Another World (find it on Genesis, SNES, or AMIGA), in which players were dropped into an unknown world and were required to learn how to survive every deadly encounter on their own.
At its core, Limbo is an adventure title that implements a series of puzzles that grow in complexity as you progress through the game. You will quickly discover that most (or maybe all) of the puzzles are designed to send you to your demise. Dying can come in any shape or form and often without you even predicting it; jump too early, fall to your doom; press the wrong button, get squished; run into a giant spider’s leg, oh, you bet you’re done, and probably tasty too.
I don’t mention all this to try and discourage anyone who has considered buying Limbo, no, my intention is to simply allow my fellow readers to get used to the idea that dying in Limbo is nothing to fear. In fact, dying is often a key part of the puzzle solving process. After all, how would anyone know how far to jump or which button to press if no one is willing to experiment? But don’t think that playing this game will mean dying at every corner; I was able to pass through many areas and puzzles without ever dying. Yet there are just some areas that may require a few sacrifices before you can proceed.
The name of the game here is puzzle solving. They start out simple enough–buttons, levers, and ledges. But the game will gradually begin easing players into more difficult and challenging puzzles. Soon saw blades, giant cogs, and even gravity manipulation will be putting gamers through some paces. Of course these puzzles were no match for my magnificent brain, but I can guarantee quite a few head-scratching moments later in the game; one such moment that comes to mind features two boxes, a short ladder, and a big anti-gravity button. You’ll know it when you see it.
The art style in Limbo is worth a second mention. From what may be seen from the screenshots below, the game is entirely black and white. The graphics are simplistic yet visually impressive. The foregrounds and backgrounds work perfectly well together and provide a sense of scope and detail rarely seen in 2D titles. The atmosphere in Limbo is especially well done and is full of shifting shadows and haunting visual effects that set the mood of this dark and mysterious world.
The argument of games as art will always exist (at least until Webster changes its definition of art), and we usually see many titles being thrown around as evidence to conclude game development as an artful form of expression. I believe that after this week, we will see Limbo being brought up as another example, standing besides other classics like Braid and Okami, of games as an art form. The game really is a treat to watch; screenshots do it no justice. I will include the official trailer below to help you make the call yourself.
There is one thing about Limbo that I can really complain about, although it has nothing to do with the gameplay. The game is roughly 4-6 hours long, depending on how quickly you can finish the puzzles. For 1200 MS points (or $15), Limbo comes with a fairly steep price tag for the relatively short game length. But the game is fun and offers many hidden secrets so a second (or third) playthrough may not be a terrible thing. There is also an achievement for playing through the entire game while dying five or less times. I guarantee gamers will not manage this one the first time through.
After all is said and done, Limbo is an amazing game. Figuring out that first big puzzle provides a certain sense of accomplishment that only gets stronger as with progression. The beautiful art style and addicting gameplay makes this a must have for any Xbox Live Arcade fan and has quickly earned a spot in my top favorite Arcade games of all time. Limbo has accomplished something that would seem impossible in today’s market; it has no story, no tutorials, no color, and no dialogue. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
[xrr label=”Rating: 9/10″ rating=9/10]
+ Impressive visuals
+ Addicting gameplay
+ Plenty of secrets to uncover
– A bit pricey
Avatar awards: First achievement grants a Limbo t-shirt. Beating the game unlocks a dog-toad (?) avatar pet.