Limbo was released July of last year on Xbox LIVE Arcade, and it garnered a lot of attention and praise. It had my interest, but I didn’t have an Xbox 360. Thankfully, a year later, Limbo hit the Playstation Network today and I have finally gotten to experience the wonderful indie game that is Limbo.
Limbo is a “simple” 2D puzzle-platformer that takes place in a hand-drawn black and white world. When you start the game for the first time, there is no start menu; you’re immediately thrown into this world without a clue about anything. As the game progresses, you really don’t learn anything about your character and what he’s doing. That may sound stupid, but it’s actually really cool and it works well for the world of Limbo.
I put simple in quotes above because the game is anything but once you get into playing it. It may have a simple style, but the actual gameplay involves some complex stuff. Be warned, this game is pretty brutal on your first play-through and you will die… A LOT. It’s very much a game where you learn the path AFTER you die. The good news is that the game is never cheap and the puzzles aren’t too hard to figure out after dying a few times (although they do require you to think and pay attention, and some timing is involved in places). It’s brutal, but not unforgiving. If (when) you die, you simply start back at the checkpoint for that chapter, which is usually right before you died. There’s no number of lives before it’s “game over,” so feel free to die often and repeatedly; Limbo sports some really awesome deaths and some sweet character animation within the deaths.
The game is also “simple” in its control scheme; you move the left stick, jump with X, and interact with objects/environment with O. You’ll need to make use of all three of those quite well, and at times quickly because everything is trying to kill you.
Speaking of killing you, the world of Limbo is both beautiful and haunting. The nameless main character appears to be a young boy, but he’s just a black silhouette with glowing white eyes and everything is out to kill him. The only hint of a story comes from the games description: you’re looking for your sister. Spoiler, you’ll find her. The world, the journey, the game itself is open to the player’s interpretation. It doesn’t have a story in a conventional way, but you have a unique black and white world and a title that means basically an in between Heaven and Hell state. Make it mean whatever you want it to mean.
One thing I did not understand was the shift from cleverly laid traps that are hard to see in an environment that has life that reacts to you (large spider, other beings), to a lifeless industrial setting with large saws, gears, and gravity/magnets platforming. It didn’t seem to fit, although after beating the game I could fit it into my story of the world and what it means, but it just felt like a way to add on some more challenging platforming elements involving large wheels of death.
My biggest, and maybe only, real complaint is that the game is tremendously short. It’s a beautiful world that’s interesting and really challenging that requires to pay attention to every little detail, but it’s over really quick. It took me about four hours to finish it, maybe four and a half. Keep in mind that this is a game that is priced at $14.99 ($11.99 if you are a Playstation Plus subscriber), whereas other great downloadable indie games (like Outland, Super Stardust HD, etc.) are priced at $9.99. I would say the game is worth that (it really should be experienced by everyone, and the developers deserve all the money and praise they can get from this game), but there are a lot of folks who will think $15 is too much for something so short and that really lacks replay value.
I won’t spoil the ending (you’ll either love it or hate it) for those who haven’t played it yet or you haven’t already read about it, but I liked it a lot. It makes sense given the name of the game and what it meant in my head at least. In that regard, it makes repeat playthroughs make sense in a continuation sense. If I fire up Super Mario Brothers, it’s “Koopa has kidnapped Princess Peach AGAIN,” but with Limbo I can consider a replay a continuation of the journey from the previous game. That, to me, is cool and unique to Limbo.
I talked about how short it was, but one positive note is how seamless it is. There are no load screens, and that’s awesome (especially after I’ve been playing games with long load times). If you could play through this without dying, you would go from the first chapter through the last chapter in one seamless sitting and that only adds to the immersion of being in Limbo.
There’s no dialogue or text in Limbo, but sound does play a role. The sound effects are great and help to set the mood for this haunting environment, especially the death sounds (jump into a bear trap or hit a saw), and at times listening to sound cues will help you solve a puzzle or do some platforming… so pay attention.
Limbo is a very smooth playing experience that most gamers should enjoy unless they just have a thing against good games and black and white visuals. If you’re okay with not having your hand held and not having an explanation or real hint of a plot, then odds are you’ll love Limbo. It’s a very satisfying experience, and my recommendation is to buy it immediately (it’s coming to Steam on August 2nd for you PC gamers). There’s a demo available now on PSN if you want to try it before you buy it, but I don’t know why PS3 and PC gamers would want to continue missing out on this gem now that its available to them.
* A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.