Game Reviews

Limbo Review: An incredible side-scroller with very few faults

Limbo is a 2D side-scrolling game released by Playdead. The premise of the game is simple, bordering on basic: players assume the role of an unnamed boy searching for his sister who’s apparently lost in Limbo. While this is fine enough of a reason (excuse?) to go off on a grand adventure, it isn’t mentioned in the game at ALL, but rather pulled from the game’s Google Play page. And to clarify this point, there was no prologue, cut scenes, epilogue, narration, subtitles, or any thing else that would advance a narrative. No story, but for the byline found on Google Play. The thing is though, this game is so good that I didn’t care. Also, not only is this the closest thing I have to a complaint, it’s my sole one at that.

So having already addressed the (lack of) story for Limbo, let’s take a look at the rest of it. While attempting to navigate Limbo, there are various enemies and traps that need to be avoided or outsmarted in order for the little boy to stay alive. There’s a very large and very creepy spider (akin to Shelob, in the dark), mysterious people that seem committed to keeping him reaching his goal via lethal force that include blowguns, and the aforementioned  innumerable death traps (some automated, and others are activated by said mysterious people). Oh, and mind altering bugs that like to fall from above and burrow into the boy’s cranium.

All of these things work together to form very clever and challenging puzzles, which failure to solve/pass one leads to a very painful death for the boy. There’s no life meter or hit points to speak of here. Either the boy progresses past a given trap, or he’s eaten by the spider… or dismembered by a giant circular saw…or drowning, splatting, getting electrocuted, falling on spikes… you get the idea. You’re going to die in many different and painful ways when playing this game, as you fumble your way through there various puzzles.

Limbo’s setting is very difficult to quantify. For starters, the entire game is played in black and white, with the foreground being silhouetted (as is popular these days). The background tends to be white, or in various shades of gray, often including the appearance of fog or the periphery being ever-so-slightly out of focus, giving the game the feeling of an old horror movie. There’s largely no soundtrack to the game either, and this absence of music allows the other sound effects to shine, whether it’s dripping water, buzzing flies, a spinning circular saw, or a timer about to expire. It’s like they’re emphasized due to the lack of music.

The control setup for this game is quite simple. You swipe with your left thumb to control direction, and swipe with your right thumb to jump, or tap to engage an object, such as pushing a large box near an edge that is otherwise to tall to climb, flipping levers, or toggling switches that reverse gravity, etc. In addition to the simple controls, the layout of the game has a form of simplicity as well. There aren’t any levels or stages to speak of, but rather the game is played in a “single take”. Were a player to progress all the way to completion without dying, it would feel a little bit like a side scrolling, endless runner that’s navigating a lengthy obstacle course.

There are also no save files in the game either. Players have one file that auto-saves as you go. When a player dies, the game simply restarts at the beginning of that particular puzzle, allowing all sorts of trial-and-error in the hopes of progressing. As players progress through the game, they can restart at any prior “checkpoint” that show up in the pause menu as a sequential string of photographs or cards that players can swipe through. Playdead rounds out the game with Google Play Games integration.

For me, this game is an EASY recommendation. Between the creepy feel for the visual and audio portions, the monochromatic appearance, the simple controls, clever puzzles, I have no serious complaints. Unless you’re easily frustrated with puzzles, this is difficult NOT to like, even at $4.99.

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