Limbo is a beautiful and surprisingly inventive little game.
In fact, it’s very little. The main complaint about it is that it’s too short. But at ten bucks, it’s cheaper than a movie and about as long as one.
And what the game affords you is well worth its price. First off, it’s just beautiful to look at. The entire game unfolds in inky blacks and deep shades of gray. Blurry foreground and background elements add to the depth. The visuals really pull you in. Yet the main elements are really simple: black silhouettes. This can lead to confusion at times since in some cases it is difficult to decipher what something is. For instance, at one point what I thought was a stone dock was actually a log that had to be pushed. But for the most part, the objects are very clear and move in realistic ways.
And the gameplay itself is fun. Yes, you die. A lot. And sometimes the deaths are gruesome: a little boy shredded by spinning saw blades. That may turn some people off. Yet the game allows you to start again from near where you died and there is no limit to your lives, so death isn’t frustrating. And the puzzles are fun. A lot of the puzzles involve pushing boxes and throwing switches, but it’s amazing how Limbo keeps such familiar fare from seeming like old hat. Part of that is due to the graphics, but much of that is due to the creativity of the puzzles themselves. Limbo makes you fight giant spiders with bear traps, move boxes with magnetism, and figure out how to reach a ladder by changing gravity one hundred and eighty degrees. And while similar elements repeat, they never get old. And sometimes the game designers play with your expectations. For instance, in one area a floor panel makes a huge block fall from the ceiling. A little farther on, it looks like the same set up. Yet here, the floor around the panel actually drops the block. So if you jump over the panel expecting to avoid the block, you find yourself getting squished. You die, but you smile because the designers won’t let you fall into complacency.
The game is also subtly evocative. All the bodies of water have small clouds of mosquitoes or flies above them, as if all the water is putrid and stagnant. Nearing the middle of the game, you encounter kids’ forts and a gang of youths. Yet all this is not innocent and is, of course, fatal. The traps around the forts kill and the young children shoot lethal blow darts at you. Oddly, this jogged my memory. While I was never chased by children wanting me dead, I remembered how as a child another child’s fort was like an enemy foundation that you had to approach with caution and dread. And the dirt clods we threw at each other would sometimes contain rocks, perhaps accidentally, though we all suspected intentionally. So this game alludes to that Lord of Flies aspect of youth that the sunnier narratives of childhood like to deny.
And the game is called Limbo. Is this the afterlife, or at least one version of it? In the game, you are trying to reach a female figure. A girlfriend? A sister? Is she dead and you are trying to reach her? Or are you the cause of her death and so must suffer in limbo for it? It’s like Super Mario as channeled by Dante.
While not perhaps for everyone due to the violent deaths, this is one beautiful and haunting little game. I really recommend trying it out.
(written March 29, 2012)