Reviewed: September 14, 2010
Released: July 21, 2010
This was how Game Chronicles Editor-In-Chief, Mark Smith described the newest Xbox Live Arcade title from Danish developer PlayDead last week when he assigned this unique title for my review. I already knew the game was going to be excellent, as I had already played through the demo a handful of times. I had experienced a smidgen of the title’s twisted artistic ambiance and gameplay style that blends aspects of Amanita Design’s excellent point-and-click puzzlers Samorost and Machinarium with the dreamy adventure of the PS2 classic Ico.
But once I sat down with the fully unlocked title I realized that the demo only presents a very limited glimpse of what Limbo has to offer. PlayDead introduces gameplay mechanics that literally turn the world on its ear and transform the light and thoughtful puzzler into a twisted, mind-bending platformer that can best be described as wearing a wet wool sweater – simultaneously damp and itchy, yet peculiarly comfy and warm.
Aboriginal killers, giant spiders, massive buzz saw blades, collapsing set pieces, and stray electricity – there are plenty of ways for Limbo’s unnamed character to die a horribly nasty death; impalement, dismemberment, crushing, and/or electrocution – you see it in all of its shadow-puppetry goodness in the land of Limbo. None of these obstacles are impossible to overcome, but they all require some degree of advanced thought.
Limbo’s gameplay is all about blending keen observation and skillful execution – set in a world in which figuring out the solution to a puzzle is only half the battle, actually pulling off the feats to complete the puzzle is another issue. Yes, a majority of the puzzles include hackneyed setpieces like switches, boxes, and pipes that must be manipulated to trigger a series of subsequent events. But simply getting the set pieces in place only triggers the excitement – it is then when the gamer’s skill and timing come into play as our nameless hero is one mistake away from certain death. Nearly every jump requires impeccable timing, most actions require swift reaction, and the gamer always has to be on the lookout for falling obstacles.
Visually, the game is one of the most artistic and stylish games to every hit a console. Taking place almost entirely in the shadows, most objects take the form of simple black silhouettes laid over a grainy and hazy black-and-white background. The aesthetic is both wonderfully dreamy and horribly warped at the same time. It is a fantastic visual package and a perfect example for the “games as art” argument.
The audio package is similarly beautiful in its simplicity and starkness. Featuring a minimalist soundscape blending modern orchestral music and sparse outdoorsy sound samples, the soundtrack could easily double for a full-featured relaxation CD. Thankfully, the onscreen action is engrossing enough to keep gamers from nodding off to the beautiful background tracks.
So why is our character wandering around in the twisted hell that is Limbo? Apparently to find his lost sister – but you would hardly know given the fact that the entirety of the game is bereft of any actual narrative. But that is not all that bad – a storyline would probably only add unnecessary confusion to the already challenging and addictive gameplay.
And since we are talking about addictive gameplay, Limbo is so engrossing that it will surely keep gamers glued to the screen for all of its 6 hour gameplay. It is challenging; gamers are sure to pull out a few hairs as they struggle to complete a puzzle – but the rewarding feeling that is gained by successfully pulling off a puzzle is second to none.
Gamers are sure to go back for a second – and possibly third – attempt as they try to collect all 12 Achievement Eggs skillfully hidden about the levels. A number of the Eggs require blind jumps and climbing skills – but there are a number of online walkthroughs already posted that will help gamers determine where best to go wandering.
So is Limbo as epic as our editor described it? In one word: Yes.
Limbo is by far the best Xbox Live Arcade title since last year’s highly-lauded Braid, and one of the best Xbox 360 titles ever released, period. Its perfect mix of challenging gameplay and top-shelf presentation will keep gamers hooked for a long time to come. Hopefully Limbo is only a sampling of the possibilities to come from the game’s fledgling developer, PlayDead.