I’m late to the party here but our planet needs more games like LIMBO. The downloadable gem has quite rightly been lauded for its amazing art direction and sound design; I was taken aback by how eerie and atmospheric a 2D platformer could be made to feel to play, it’s almost a ghastly monochrome realisation of Lord of the Flies, and for me a better compliment couldn’t be paid to the thing.
The puzzles and their backdrops are an absolute pleasure to behold. Whilst only a few of them can really be deemed taxing, they’ll still have you caressing your chin in bemusement and the difficulty is such that you’ll still get that penny-dropping buzz after a few minutes of wasteful experimentation. In reality you can be sat there for ages playing around with boxes and switches, watching them slide and topple about the world like some retarded chimp that’s ceaselessly entertained by elementary physics.
What a world it is too, by the way: beautiful, ominous, threatening, claustrophobic, disorientating, but most importantly - completely devoted to killing you. By denying you of any combat ability and by painting every inch of the landscape as a potential deathbed, not once will you escape the feeling of vulnerability. I found myself distrusting every object I came across as if it were another of developer Playdead’s sadistically positioned pitfalls, approaching every suspect rock like it was a monster ready to bear teeth and bite my scrawny hamstrings off.
I think what makes LIMBO great is that treating the game with this sort of ungainly trepidation is neither stupid nor set in paranoia, because it is an utterly unpredictable and fully instinctual experience. No matter what level of caution paid, the fact is you won’t finish the game without hearing the petrifying snap of your neck a few dozen times. I stress ‘your’ there because you definitely do feel responsible for the poor boy’s life, hell, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE, so you’re not going to throw him around like he’s a scruffy little ragdoll. No, you’re going to tiptoe along, you’re going to shimmy gently to each ledge, you’re going to nurture your every leap, and you’re going to get fucked anyway.
That’s just how it is.
One minute you’ll need to explore slowly, the next you’ll need lightning fast reactions to dodge swinging bear traps, and it’s impossible to be primed for both situations at the same time. The inevitability of death isn’t cheap or annoying though because it’s delivered in such spectacular fashion. As much as one may fear a new obstacle and wish the boy no harm, one cannot help but admire how gaudy some of the fatalities are. There’s flying intestines and everything. So the key is to learn as you go.
My one criticism of the game is that the first half is quite a bit stronger than the second. LIMBO really shines in its ambiguity and for me the forest emits that with more grace and menace than the industrial underground. It has better set-pieces and the threat of living creatures, as well as demented children, is far more powerful than the threat of spinning blades. With that said, the ending is spot on and bravely abrupt, and very keeping with the game’s self-contained nature.
If you’re partial to indie titles, a sucker for detailed animation, or an appreciator of excellent video games in general, bite the bullet and give it a try.
Thanks go to the lovely Anna for the banner. Also, I’ve now noticed that the boy looks like Lucas from the Earthbound series/Smash Bros. Cool.