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Limbo (Xbox 360) artwork

Limbo (Xbox 360) review


"I get the familial element thanks to scouring over Limbo’s title screen, which shows two dead bodies cast amid fly-ridden wreckage. By bringing in closure through finding this girl, it makes a sorrowful game like this a little easier to swallow. However, it would have been so cool, so unbelievably legitimizing to all the games out there that employed the “looping concept” that it makes no sense to me why Limbo wouldn’t do it here. I mean, c'mon, the game is called Limbo! Name me another game that would so benefit from not having a direct ending but rather pick up from the start the moment it ends. You can’t."



Limbo asset


To begin this review, I’d like to start at the end. Playdead, the developer behind Limbo, totally got the ending wrong. The game’s nameless hero, a darkly silhouetted boy – having gone through an ordeal of twisted traps and morbidly themed segments – ends up waking up in the exact same forest glade that he did to start the game. He opens his eyes, gets on his feet, walks to the right for a short pace, and encounters his sister who has until this moment held no significance to him other than what our own imagination may bring.

It’s as happy of an open-ended ending one could expect for the hell the little boy had to endure, right?

I get the familial element thanks to scouring over Limbo’s title screen, which shows two dead bodies cast amid fly-ridden wreckage. By bringing in closure through finding this girl, it makes a sorrowful game like this a little easier to swallow. However, it would have been so cool, so unbelievably legitimizing to all the games out there that employed the “looping concept” that it makes no sense to me why Limbo wouldn’t do it here. I mean, c'mon, the game is called Limbo! Name me another game that would so benefit from not having a direct ending but rather pick up from the start the moment it ends. You can’t.

The silhouetted boy, instead of finding his sister, should have woken up, proceeded right, and begun the entire game anew. Don’t even show the credits! That would have defined Limbo as more than a visually stimulating game with sound platforming mechanics because then it would have emphasized the concept of limbo within Limbo. It would have been a well-played punch line to those who got it; and to those who wouldn’t, all they would be missing would their brain. Instead, what was provided has proven to be one of the most frustrating endings I have ever experienced in a video game. I beat Limbo ages ago, yet I still think about the sequence leading up to the ending, and how much more satisfying it would have been to me had it simply carried forward into the beginning without interruption. It would have been serendipitous.

If I seem misguided by beginning my review of Limbo by complaining about the ending, then know it is because I like the game so much and find the very last part to be so unlike the rest of it. Few art styles set the stage better than the shadowy backdrops running rampant here. Limbo frightened the bejesus out of me, and not because it was even scary, but rather because it felt like a lingering evocation of humanity’s darkest kept secrets being presented to one unlucky member of an unwilling audience, that poor little boy. I liked Limbo for its well-thought-out platforming and heightened pacing, but what really sold me on the game were the themes of tragedy and despair.

Limbo may be a relatively simple game as you control a little black silhouetted boy left to right across a cruel world beset by chaos, but the true beauty in the game stems from its imaginative artistic display. There are no colors employed here, only tones of black, white, and gray. These shades canvas a world left ruined and crumbling. As the little silhouetted boy explored the world he was left to linger in, I wondered what caused this world to turn the way it had. Was the world even real, or was it a dream? We’re given no context, and it allows for all kinds of cool thoughts to be conjured. I imagine the world once experienced better times. Maybe it even had color. But then at some point reality came to stay. Now only the wicked reside within these charcoal-colored confines.

In lieu of the living are numerous traps and obstacles dotting the land. The silhouetted boy must navigate these hazards if he hopes to escape. Whether he’s consciously trying to escape or just attempting to see if the next area is a little less awful than the last, something propels him to continue his journey. Plot points are few and far between, and it’s entirely just you controlling the boy from one macabre setting to the next. Most dangers come in the form of neglected environmental hazards, but there are some living foes to confront as well. For the first part of the game, the boy must contend with a resilient spider that towers over him with flesh-piercing legs. Later on, the boy will meet other boys who share no empathy toward his plight and are invested in killing our small, nameless hero only because they have killed everyone else and grow tired of waiting to do it again. Still, even later on, the boy must contend with brain-delving worms, electrical currents, gravitational pulls, and meat-grinding saw blades.

For this, unlimited lives are afforded to the silhouetted boy. I don’t mind that because few of the puzzles are obvious, and the game espouses trial and error. That helps to make Limbo fun. The concept of just figuring out how to handle each situation with the ironic consolation prize being that you get to witness the poor little boy suffer a number of creative and gruesome deaths makes for effective design. Limbo is all about dying so hindsight can offer a better deal next time. You learn from your mistakes so hopefully you can move forward. With the concept of limbo, that makes the concept of progression handle a little bit differently. I guess you’re moving sideways instead of onward. That leads me to the one complaint I have with Limbo.

Let’s talk about the ending . . .

Rating: 8/10

Fiddlesticks's avatar
Community review by Fiddlesticks (August 12, 2012)

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