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July 27, 2010

Disturbed in Limbo

No, I'm not talking about watching Roseann Barr (or does she still just go by "Roseann?") doing the Limbo.

I'm talking about this wonderful new Xbox Live Arcade game called Limbo.  If you have the opportunity to check it out, you must.  Yes, it's $15 (1200 Microsoft Points), but it's well worth that money.

I just finished it last night, and it's one of the few games I have the urge to just immediately start it over. I resisted that urge, because I wanted to get some more Alan Wake time in, but I will go back to it soon.

Just what's so cool about Limbo?  Duh.  Everything!

Basically, Limbo is a simple game and a simple story.  You control The Boy as he wakes up in a completely surreal world, on a quest to save his sister who has disappeared.  In the process of the 3-5 hours you'll spend playing this game, you'll experience haunting images, grisly deaths, and incredibly innovative platform puzzles that will tax your brain trying to figure out how to move past them.

Limbo is definitely a simple game in execution.  You control The Boy with the left stick.  Jump with the "A" button (or also the "Y" button, for some reason).  You manipulate objects with the "B" button.  That's it.  Nothing more.  Yet how game creator Playdead Games puts all of this together has to be seen to be believed.  They put all of this together in a mind-bending sequence of puzzles from gravity reversal to just simple "move boxes around to give you a step up to the next ledge" puzzles.  Sometimes you have to think outside the box, but you can only use what's there on the screen.  Is there a platform that affects gravity, but you need something to stay on that platform so you can continue to climb and move through the level?  That's a handy box there.  But maybe you need a few seconds to get where you're going before you want the gravity to disappear? Wow, that hill leading down to the platform might come in handy.  Boxes slide down non-flat surfaces, you know.

I admit I had to use a walkthrough for a few of the puzzles that I couldn't figure out at all, but even knowing how to do something doesn't mean you can do it well.  I still died numerous times because some of the puzzles require you to get your timing down exactly.  While the puzzles in certain areas follow the same central theme (the ones leading up to the end game are all gravity ones), the execution of these puzzles is totally unique, giving the game a freshness as it never really repeats itself.

What makes Limbo distinct from other 2-D platformers, though, is the wonderful presentation.  Everything's in black and white, allowing Playdead to play with the shadows of the mind.  The background is a bit misty too, with dangers both stark and only hinted at.  Some will appear just to make an appearance, only to come on to the screen and make your life difficult later.  A spider scuttles aways into the misty darkness.  The game stays away from "gotcha" type scares, instead giving the player a deeply unsettling environment where you don't know what is real and what is just a figment of your imagination.  The Boy is totally black, but with glowing eyes (the wife was seriously creeped out by this).

The game alternates between dangerous areas, where you must figure out exactly when and where to jump or run, and areas where you can sit and just try and figure out what you need to do in order to advance.  This mix of peace and conflict, with the player never knowing what's going to come next, adds to the uneasiness.

There will be deaths, and they will be grisly.  Due to the surreal nature of the graphics and the lack of colour in the game, these deaths are even more unsettling than if you had seen everything in brilliant technicolor.  Blood goes flying, saws will cut the boy into pieces, electrified platforms will sizzle while The Boy collapses.  Each death will haunt you, even more so when the death is inevitable but takes a few seconds to actually happen.  For example, missing a jump and landing on an electrified platform where the power is intermittently going on and off, landing when the power's off, and just waiting for that sizzling sound. (The wife was creeped out by this and The Boy's other deaths, too)

Which is another aspect of the presentation I love.  There is no music, just the surreal setting and the sound effects of the various parts of the game: the grinding of saws, the drip drip drip of water, the pitter patter of The Boy's feet on the ground.

All of this adds up to complete immersion in the surreal and disturbing world of Limbo.

To best experience this game, turn off all the lights, turn up the sound on the TV, and just lose yourself.

It's an incredibly enriching experience.

(all game pictures courtesy of Limbo's page on


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