“Some days, you’re just screwed from the moment you wake up, till the moment you lay back down”
(Author’s note: I do give games a score, but I use a different system than most. It’s simple really. I give the score based on the price of the game. For example if a game is $60 but pretty decent, I’d give it a $30/$60, and recommend that you should buy it for $30. With MS Points, it’s the same thing.)
Limbo, released July 21st at the beginning of Summer of Arcade on Xbox Live, had a lot to live up to when I first heard about it. It reminded me of Braid from 2008’s Summer of Arcade launch at first glance, however as I played through it, I realized that this is not like Braid at all, it triumphantly surpasses Braid and every other game on Xbox Live Arcade, be it puzzle or otherwise.
Limbo’s minimalist art style is striking enough at first glance to warrant immediate attention. The small boy’s only distinguishing feature being his two hauntingly glowing eyes. He wakes up on the floor, clueless and without guidance, and immediately embarks on an adventure that would (and has) made grown men shudder with fear.
While Limbo may look like a simple “artsy” puzzle game, here lies the main difference between Limbo and Braid: Limbo is completely terrifying. Despite the boy being a “silent protagonist” who we know absolutely nothing about other than he kind of looks like Ness from Earthbound, I felt absolutely compelled to try to keep him out of as much danger as humanly possible.
Danger however, is everywhere. Bear Traps, Giant Spiders, Automated Turrets, even things as simple as a flaming tire become absolutely petrifying in Limbo. As I played through, knowing that the game was designed to terrify you and kept my guard, the people watching me play were screaming and cringing in absolute terror. Limbo is painful. Limbo is unrelenting. Most importantly, Limbo is completely unforgiving.
While we’re on the topic, let’s talk about the deaths in Limbo. “Limbo is unforgiving” is a complete understatement. It’s more than unforgiving, it makes you look like a pathetic fool as well, should you make a mistake. Run too far without paying attention? Bear Trap has now turned your body into an Ocarina. Happen to be in a calm state of mind? Limbo sends a giant spider to impale you and then shake you off as if it stepped in something. Didn’t jump down at the right spot? Limbo forgot to show you that spinning buzz-saw blade waiting to turn you into meat shuffleboard pieces.
Whereas Braid was about using one mechanic, time travel, in many different and mind-detonating ways, Limbo takes the opposite approach. Limbo throws everything at you it can possibly think up. While gameplay consists mainly approaching the puzzle, solving it and moving on without getting turned into cannon-fodder, these puzzles are simple, yet elegant in design and are amazingly difficult to figure out. Towards the middle of the game however, I seemed to get better at solving them, but almost as if the game was recognizing that I was getting better at surviving, it shifted dynamic and the puzzles began to take a much more sinister turn. However none of the deaths seem unwarranted. I was never playing a part of the game and screamed “OH COME ON I SHOULD HAVE MADE THAT!” as we all do when we’re playing these puzzle games. It’s almost as if Limbo has a life of its own. If you are accurate, you are rewarded for your accuracy, but if you aren’t flawless, you most certainly will pay. Greatly.
Uncommon with most art games is Limbo’s “story.” There isn’t any progression however, this isn’t a true story, but as you progress further in the game, you start to figure out why you’re in this horrible, horrible place. However unlike Braid, the story is woven during playtime, not through some awkward text at the beginning of the level. More importantly, this story is one that is simple enough to understand, but satisfying enough to digest. All without any speech or text of any kind.
Limbo is easy to classify, difficult to master, but most certainly one of the best of it’s kind. As long as you are willing to continue forward and figure out the puzzles, Limbo will easily be one of the most (if not the most) satisfying arcade game you will play this summer.
Score: 1200/1200 (MS Points)