Review – Limbo
You can be a king or a lowly road sweeper but sooner or later…
Well Peowwsters it’s that time of year again were Microsoft try to moisten up the annual summer games drought by releasing some exclusive Xbox Live! Arcade titles (the collective noun being an ‘udder’ of Xbox Live! Arcade games) to help keep us all busy until the winter season flood of new games and for the slightly less autistic reason to help us spend all those unused Microsoft points we’d been saving for DLC that never came out or was just too damn expensive – more on that problem later.
Last year we got the sublime, if somewhat short Shadow Complex and the infuriating but addictive as Odie’s tablet Trails HD and with Castlevania: Harmony of Despair still to come Limbo is going to have to be something special to justify the 1200 M$P price tag in a marketplace that already has Braid, Bionic Commando and a couple of new Mega Man games all calling to your credit cards. So is it another case of style over substance or is Limbo that most rare of creatures today, an original platforming game? I’m leaving the wank hat ON the peg to find outâ€¦
At first everything in Limbo is slightly under whelming with no fancy FMV intro or bombastic soundtrack to draw you in it’s just you controlling an unnamed (presumably male) figure cast in a black silhouette with two white points for eyes who must travel from right to left by running, jumping an interacting with all manor of objects, environments and spooky creatures. The environments range from wind swept fields to industrial foundries and even electrified neon rooftops which are all drawn in the same grey charcoal style that make everything look like a cartoon made in the soviet block circa 1979.
As a graphical style it’s singularly unique and by just using a few alternating shades of grey and some pretty particle effects can project a hugely distinctive atmosphere of loneliness, sadness and isolation that will have you genuinely glad when you make it out of a dangerous area to a serene meadow of moths and swaying grass and not factories filled with limb chopping buzz saw blades and caves filled with bear traps.
When you’re not in relaxing surroundings you’ll be guiding Bob (that’s the name I gave the nameless protagonist) trough these caves and the like dodging traps, defeating monsters and solving puzzles all with the same low exposition, high experimentation style found throughout the game.
For example you’ll come to an area with an obvious trap in it but how do you get past? Well you could push a nearby box next to the trap and jump over it or swing on a handy rope only to find that the obvious solution only complicates matters further as the box was pressing on a switch you need to use or the rope is tethered to a handy weight keeping open a gate. This attention to detail and the use of creative puzzle placement will quickly have you pealing back the many layers of the puzzles and obstacles like the layers on an onion until you get to the middle having cried your eyes out.
The puzzles here are real brain teasers, they’re not inexplicable or obtuse but vague enough that when you do get past the double turret room or see-saw bridge after the giant spider that you’ll be amazed the solution had you so stumped for so long. You could save yourself the stress and use an FAQ but like skipping to the last chapter of a great mystery novel you’ll only be ruining it for yourself because once you do beat a section you’ll feel genuinely pleased you bested it on your own without having to resort to outside help and if you don’t feel that wayâ€¦ fuck you.
That’s not to say the whole game is sitting around stroking your chin and pondering as Limbo has some of the trickiest hardcore platforming sections outside of a Prince of Persia game and some of the most cuntish trial and error gameplay since Rick Dangerous took a double shit on my C64. Pixel perfect jumping and split second timing are needed on more than one occasion and the game’s complete lack of exposition means that you’ll often make a blind jump only to find that the ledge you where on was a bottomless pit or the switch on the floor was a huge deathtrap waiting to get sprung.
Limbo is a game that is going to come up in conversations about games as art in the future. It has a very nice looking minimalistic graphical style that’s reminiscent of shadow puppetry. Again the music is very minimal, with some lovely ominous background noise, which gives a sense of dread. It really is overall very beautiful and unlike most arty games it has very solid game play to go along with it.
The game play is very simplistic, which is why the game is so much fun. Controls are as simple as any old Spectrum or NES game you’ve played. You have a jump button and an action button, that’s it. The entirety of the game is to get from the beginning of the screen you are onto the next one and onto the next puzzle. If I had to compare this game to any other then I would have to it is very much like Another World, which Is a compliment since I loved that game.
This game does have its faults, the monochromatic graphics can make it difficult to figure out what is going on, on the screen on times. It is also a rather short game, which given the 1200 M$P price doesn’t seem like great value.
Limbo starts off as a simplistic platformer and slowly turns into an extremely fiendish puzzle game. It is also a very good looking game, though the game is short so it ends up being more style over substance. This game has next to no replayability, so I’d only recommend picking the game up if it dropped down to 800 M$P.
Secondary Score: 7/10
As you can no doubt tell by my somewhat florid text at the start of the review and a quick look at the game’s screenshots, yes while I’m primarily describing it as a platformer Limbo is what I’d also call an ‘art’ game.
So what do I mean by ‘art’ game well other famous examples of this under populated sub-genre is ICO and Shadow of the Colossus games that while looking fantastic and having great atmosphere just don’t have the gameplay to justify playing them once the wow (or should that be wank?) factor have faded.
Is this the case with Limbo? Well I’m sure if the game was filled with Nintendo style colourful sprites and anthropomorphic characters rather than moody grey on grey visuals and sparse audio queues it’d be quickly forgotten but because it appeals to the wank hat crowd it’ll be given glowing reviews and then quickly forgotten until people need an example of a game that would have sold better if it didn’t look so different.
The bottom line here is that yes it’s a good game that plays well and has a unique look but it’s nowhere near good enough to justify the 1200 M$P price point as the running time (allowing reasonable stoppages for head scratching) runs less that four hours and once you’ve cracked the various puzzles could probably be played through to completion in less that an hour.
If this game should go on sale for 800 M$P or less I couldn’t recommend it enough to you but as it stands the gameplay/cost ratio is too unbalanced to recommend to anyone but the hardcore ICO loving art house crowd or XBLA obsessives.