A boy wakes up in a forest. He is nothing but a silhouette and a pair of brightly glowing eyes. To the right is death, despair and, perhaps, a way out. So he goes there. This is Limbo.
Playdead's Xbox Live Arcade game, a nightmarish, inventive, puzzle-solving platforming adventure, is presented without plot or pretense. Its only explanation comes courtesy of the game's description, "Uncertain of his sister's fate, a boy enters Limbo." VIsualized in blurry black and white, Limbo is simple and complex, a rethinking of how a character can jump and climb his way through a dangerous world. It's sad and beautiful, quiet and noisy.
So, walk to the right, do not fall into that pit of spikes, avoid being crushed to death and avoid the hundred other perils that await the boy who finds himself in Limbo.
The Best Use Of Bear Traps: Clever seems too cheap of word to describe Limbo's puzzles. They're smart and, for the most part, delightfully refreshing. They involve things you may not be used in a Super Mario Bros.-like side-scrolling game, including deadly bear traps, whirring saw blades and worlds that rotate. They also involve things you may be familiar with, like crates you can stack, floors that electrify and switches that must be pulled. Please, don't watch this video, because it will spoil a puzzle or two for you. And that would be too bad.
It's Not About The Notes You Play: Limbo is scary, full of childhood fears—spiders, drowning and evil little boys who will trick you and hurt you. You'll need to do some horrifying things to reach the end of Limbo, things that we don't normally do in games like this. You'll watch the boy's body being ripped apart, see it crushed into lifelessness and walk on the corpses of others. The absence of a soundtrack—the game's audio is almost exclusively dedicated to environmental cues and puzzle-solving clues, so listen very carefully—heightens the fear of dread. Play with the volume up so you can appreciate how soundless it is.
Shadows & Physics: Limbo, for all its horrors, is a beautiful game. From the flies that hover about rotting piles of flesh to the scum and dirt that floats atop every pool of water, Limbo is gorgeously designed. Artistically, it is stunning to look at, black, white, shades of gray and mostly out of focus. Technically, it is impressive. Ropes are pulled taught when climbed believably. Bodies crumple like sad rag dolls. Worlds turn and warp insanely.
Limbo is a game that you should play. Actually you should play it twice or three times, at least so that you can see why you shouldn't have failed almost any puzzle the first time. Limbo is wildly inventive, as long as it needs to be and free of the fluff that would only get in the way of this perfectly barren experience. The game may stumble slightly towards its end as the puzzles become harder and the game transforms into something a bit more mechanically bizarre than frightening, but the ramp upward is unmissable.
No excuse, whether Playdead's game is one hour shorter than you'd hoped or five dollars more than you expect of a game that you can download, should stop you from playing Limbo.
Limbo was developed and published by Playdead for Xbox Live Arcade on July 21. Retails for 1200 Microsoft Points or $15.00 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through game twice with a current completion score of 86%.
Confused by our reviews? Read our review FAQ.