When I think about limbo–the speculative idea about the afterlife condition, not the videogame–I think about The Twilight Zone‘s “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” which, while not the scariest of episodes, is the most disturbing in my book. It’s certainly had a lasting effect on me. The episode’s title really says it all: five characters want out. They are each unique–a clown, a hobo, a ballet dancer, a bagpiper, and an army major–and they find themselves stuck at the bottom of some foreign place with seemingly no escape. Together, through talk and trial, they begin to gather clues about where they are and, more importantly, why they are there. As expected, there’s a twist ending, and it’s a good one, but it’s the musings of the clown and the heated passion of the army man that really stick out in my mind here. One accepts, and the other challenges. Is this place their limbo? Their lingering spot before heaven or hell or something entirely new? It could be; it’s confined and maddening, bleak with little hope, and there’s strange noises and happenings taking place just out of reach or sight; and there’s a clown, and if ever a limbo existed, it existed with clowns.
When I think about Limbo the videogame, I also think about The Twilight Zone‘s “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” and…spiders and eyeless children and death and loneliness and buzzsaws and gravity flipswitches and pain and torment and colorless cityscapes and and and…and so much more. This game has a lot to offer, and it’s an amazing little package that is all about the gutpunch. Glory is for suckers.
Though it’s never openly said, the plot in Limbo consists of a young boy waking up in a mysterious forest and then going out to find his missing sister. That’s basically it, and that’s what you’ll read if you skim the product description before downloading this XBLA title. Though this trek won’t be easy. The world–or state of being–in which Limbo takes place is full of dangers, and a sharp eye and ear are your best bets for survival. Quick fingers, too. Though you will “die” a lot because, sometimes, that’s the only way to learn. At first, the dangers are very organic, but as you progress they will change to man-made devices, which, honestly, was a little disappointing. I’d rather run from a creepy-as-creepy-gets spider than jump a dozen buzzsaws any day.
Limbo is twofold: a puzzler and a platformer. Each go hand-in-hand with one another, but neither outshines the other. The puzzles start out really great, with spiders and beartraps and spiked pitfalls, but they slowly turn into very, hmm, puzzle-like puzzles, with switch flipping and gravity zones to master. Like stuff pulled more from Braid or The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom. Didn’t feel as natural, more forced than anything else. Then there’s the actual hopping about; it works for the most part, but it’s awfully difficult to judge jumping distances, as well as the fact that the boy is a bit slow on climbing. He’s a slow runner, too, but that’s not as big of a deal…except when giant spiders are a-chasing.
Where Limbo excels is, obviously, its presentation. Hard to miss its unique take on afterlife noir. This is no The Saboteur, with black and white and some color; it’s totally void of anything vibrant, and there’s just blackness and the white eyes of the boy and a lot of gray in the background. It’s stark and unnerving, as well as hard to navigate at times. Some ledges and traps are difficult to make out just because it’s black on black, causing too much frustration and wandering back and forth. A lot of the set pieces are well done, especially the HOTEL sign and forest, and there has to be something said about the use of music within. Or should I say lack of music. It’s used sparingly, but to great effect. Seriously, play this game in total darkness with the sound turned UP. You’re welcome.
Limbo‘s game length has been already discussed at length. Many feel that, for its $15.00 price tag, it is too short. That three to four hours is not enough. However, it can last someone as long as they’d like it to, really; me, I probably played it for a total of five to seven hours before seeing the ending. And I’m satisfied with that amount. It was an engaging game, sucking me in and not letting me out until I hit a puzzle that stumped me, but I was pleased to have those breaks. It made it more enjoyable returning to continue on. There’s a bunch of Achievement eggs to collect too, and most of them are not very obvious so, after seeing some online vids, I have them to go back and get. There’s not much replay value after that, but I would like to play the game again for Tara (or get her to play it)…just to see the spider in action. So, yeah, there’s that.
To close, Limbo is a wonderfully haunting experience, something that must be played and conquered, and I recommend it wholly. Expect a lot of clones to hit over the next year, and expect none of them to do what Limbo did best: be memorable.