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Limbo (Xbox 360) artwork

Limbo (Xbox 360) review


"Limbo is a neat little oddity of a game. It is at once fleshed out and involved but also unrelentingly minimalist. It's a 2D puzzle platformer in the truest sense - your task is to get from one end to the other, your tools are limited to movement, jumps, and "action" (usually grabbing things or pressing buttons). Everything is presented in a black and white style that manages to convey an impressive amount of detail despite being limited to soft, blurry (beautiful) silhouettes. You'll learn more..."



Limbo is a neat little oddity of a game. It is at once fleshed out and involved but also unrelentingly minimalist. It's a 2D puzzle platformer in the truest sense - your task is to get from one end to the other, your tools are limited to movement, jumps, and "action" (usually grabbing things or pressing buttons). Everything is presented in a black and white style that manages to convey an impressive amount of detail despite being limited to soft, blurry (beautiful) silhouettes. You'll learn more about the plot from reading the Xbox Live Arcade product description than you will in-game.

Limbo does not have "stages", or "enemies", or "bosses", or any other compartmentalized nicety that may or may not have come to be associated with platformers in the past few decades. Its environments flow, seamlessly, into each-other, and any sentient creatures you may encounter are simply filed, along with traps and more traditional environmental hazards, under "Things That Can Kill You".

That's really the essence of this game. You start on the left, you know in your soul that your objective is to the right, and you see with your eyes that the way ahead is very frightening looking and undoubtedly peppered with Things That Can Kill You. If you're still alive, you're making progress. Put a foot wrong, and you will be treated to a startlingly detailed animation sequence depicting your unfortunate demise, and go back to one of the very considerately placed checkpoints. Other creatures (and people), the obstacles, the traps, and the environment all blend together into coherent systems with patterns you must grasp, surprises you must spot, and platforming sequences you must perform to emerge alive at the other side. Some can be done purely on reflex; others must be learned through repetition - and you can be sure that a) you will find yourself second-guessing the level designers, b) that the level designers are clever enough to be utterly unreadable while still being deliberate and considered, and c) they're much better at second guessing than you are.

By the time you've walked and jumped as far to the right as you can go, you'll have trudged through everything a platformer can throw at you; jumping puzzles, climbing puzzles, water level puzzles, timed puzzles, crate-pushing puzzles, gravity puzzles, and face to face encounters with creatures that are Definitely Trying To Kill You. Limbo is the kind of game that is born when a team of able and creative people decide in advance on a set of mechanics, a variety of environments, and a set of controls, lock them down, and calmly, logically, think out as many interesting applications of these as possible. The result is an elegant, effortless and not-at-all-repetitive game that knows exactly how long it has before it outstays its welcome and makes sure that the credits roll at the exact moment where another second of gameplay would be boring.

Stylistically, Limbo does nothing that does not need doing. Its art style is simplistic, only exactly as detailed as is necessary to properly and convincingly and beautifully convey the nature of each location. The same is true of the soundtrack, which is mostly ambient noises that do a far better job at capturing a situation than even the most painstakingly composed music would - though Limbo is not above playing a few sparse notes at maybe three opportune moments. Everything plays off of everything else; the lack of plot exposition, the dark, blurry backdrops, the inscrutable creatures, the almost unbearable near-silence, and the sheer volume of Things That Can Kill You combine to form an inescapable atmosphere of fear and uncertainty - what the developers have managed to craft with a few blurry silhouettes and some nature samples is nothing short of a miracle.

The "levels" themselves are designed such that they get straight to the point; there are twenty odd "chapters" (but no transitions and definitely no static "loading" screens) that you won't even notice until you save, quit, and see the new menu option titled "chapter select". Never once does the game break character to tell you something - everything you come to understand about the controls will be gently (and wordlessly) suggested to you through intelligent layout choices. There are, however, ten hidden puzzles to find, included for the benefit of people who like to really explore inside their videogames, that those players who aren't in the habit of looking for secrets probably won't even notice. They're all pretty clever, and you will see for yourself how well the creators know their audience the very second you find the very first one (and be assured: if you're the kind of person they're thinking of, you will find the very first one without even thinking about it).

The only real point of contention one can have with the game is that it is, as premium-priced XBLA games go, fairly short. You can probably puzzle through it, from scratch, in a few hours - and a few more if you want to solve all the hidden puzzles on your own (you should do that!), and that'll kinda be it. Limbo is worth every penny, though, and honestly, if brevity is the worst accusation one can fling at a game, it's not doing too badly for itself.

Limbo is pretty much everything a game of its type can aspire to being. It gets straight to the point, and doesn't muck about - it's clever, inventive, precise, beautiful, immersive, and very very fun. It was helmed by people who clearly understand what you want and how you think, and how long it will take for you to tire of it. It is most definitely a Quality Videogame, worthy of your immediate purchase.

Rating: 9/10

Fedule's avatar
Featured community review by Fedule (August 19, 2010)

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CoarseDragon posted August 19, 2010:

Good review. Limbo is sort of a strange game in that black and white color but is really fun.

Just so you know you ran together "eachother" in the second paragraph.
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Fedule posted August 20, 2010:

Good spot! I'm forever tripping up over words that should be hypenated or spaced or something... and always horrifically uncertain about what the rules are on that. It's infuriating.

(I also broke up a horrific run-on sentence that had three "and"s in it)

Thanks for the feedback.
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CoarseDragon posted August 20, 2010:

Yeah, sometimes to many "ands" can make things hard to read but I really did not find any that were excessive. I enjoyed your review very much.

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