Limbo is a 2D puzzle-platformer with a minimalistic approach in a number of aspects. Games that slot into this category often do well on Xbox Live Arcade, namely Braid, which had a colourful backdrop, a quirky sense of humour, and diverse time manipulation gameplay. Limbo is quite the opposite. It is a dark, mysterious game that plays on the fact that there is little to no story behind it at all. There is no time taken to set the stage and there is no text or speech anywhere in the game to gain a sense of purpose. The only morsel of information can be found on the game’s description on Xbox Live Arcade, where it reads “Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters LIMBO.”
Limbo begins in a corner of a wood, to which a boy awakens and the player assumes control. Noticeable from his inhumanly bright eyes, the boy can move left or right across the screen, jump, and grab objects such as boxes and switches. This translates to an analogue stick and two buttons on the controller, keeping the focus on screen with the simplicity. The game strings out quite linearly from the start, puzzle after puzzle, with very little backtracking.
Since there are only two actions there is every challenge imaginable, from simple box and rope puzzles, to complex magnet and gravity puzzles, saved until the very end. It is clear that each of the encounters is well thought out, with a simple solution each time, even if it isn’t realised first time. It might take 20 seconds or 20 minutes to figure out the answer, but the creativity and imagination makes the process pleasurable and the solution satisfying.
The landscape progressively changes from a wooded forest to a huge cog-worked industrial complex, so not only is there a change in the puzzles, but a change in environment. This also adds in hazards such as electrified floors and spinning blades whereas at the beginning bear traps and rolling boulders were the most potent threat. The game supplements these dangerous objects with dangerous creatures, including spear wielding tribal folk, a massive spider, and a parasitic blob that takes over movement so that the boy moves non-stop in one direction. All of this poses a significant hurdle, and with much of the world towering high above the player.
It would appear at first sight that all odds are against the player, adding to the feeling of innocence and helplessness of the boy. However, the boy has agility up his sleeve and the world around him as his weapon. Helping the boy take care of his foes with what is in front of you leaves a great feeling, especially with that dastardly spider.
The game’s colour palette immediately strikes the screen. In fact there is no ‘colour’ at all; it is all shades of grey. This adds depth with shade, and atmosphere where it is needed with hazy fog and the odd splash of light. The boy’s eyes are brightest white to be found in the game, picking him out against his black silhouette and any dark corner he might find himself in. This gives him what little identity he has, as he has no means to express himself. His body feels fragile in movement, and even more so when a wrong step often sees him gruesomely decapitated. In fact, there is such an extreme amount blood it is comical. It is quite fun just throwing the boy in the way of impending doom, just to see the effects, if that doesn’t sound too weird.
Limbo, with its dark art style, helpless protagonist and bloody gore, gives an overall impression of horror. It isn’t something that holds it back though, but gives the player an overwhelming need to carry the boy to the end. The minimalistic approach to the game is apparent in its ending, with just a slither of satisfaction as all of the questions remain unanswered.
There are collectable eggs to look for instead of constantly marching to the right of the screen, inserting a welcome treasure hunt. Once you have searched in the corners, there is no reward for going through the game more than once. However, even when a player has mastered each of the sequences, the achievement for going through from start to finish in one sitting with less than 5 deaths can be more of a challenge than is first thought. This definitely requires a second look.
The boy might find what he is looking for in 3-4 hours for a first playthrough, which may seem quite a small amount of entertainment for 1200 MSP (£10.20), but given that each puzzle is unique and that the game never repeats itself, it is really an interactive experience that is worth the asking price.