Tag Archives: Limbo

2019 Game Review Haiku, #18 – Urplace

Home is not a place
It’s where your Limbo heart is
Short, sweet, not much else

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Coma means to feel nothing and still get full credit for being alive

coma gd final impressions

It’s interesting to see what an impact 2010’s Limbo from developer Playdead had on the gaming industry. It’s been almost five full years since the world got to take control of a young boy, wreathed in silhouette, on the hunt to find his missing sister. Since the world got to watch in horror as horror happened to this young boy for every misstep and mistake he–a.k.a. you–made. Coma doesn’t punish you in the same trial and error way as Limbo did, but it still evokes a somber, almost futile sense of dread with every jump and change of scenery. I dug it, but there’s problems. Also, questions.

What’s a coma? An extended state of unconsciousness. I’ve never been in one and hope to never experience it, but you never know what way life will go. More pertinent to the topic at hand–what’s Coma with a capital c? It’s a light exploration and adventure game by Thomas Brush, playable in your browser over at Adult Swim’s games section. Probably a bajillion other sites, too, but this is where I first stumbled across it, my new go-to site for small, bite-sized gaming experiences, like Insidia and Winnose from last year. It’s a casual platformer, with no fail state that I could find and a running time of maybe fifteen to twenty minutes, depending if you get stuck trying to figure out how to make it across that one big gap.

Coma‘s story is purposefully obtuse. You play as a tiny boy-thing, drowning in shadows. You are searching for your sister who, according to a bird-thing you befriend, is trapped in a secret basement. Along the way you’ll run into other strange critter-things who may or may not help you. There’s writing on the walls that maybe clue you in on the state of this realm and Pete’s abusive father, but again, it’s not really for the game to say. Is this boy in a coma? Is he trying to rescue his sister, who is the one in a coma? Is that big blobby queen creature a tumor? Not really sure. I both like that and don’t, as the game’s world is perhaps too ethereal and foreign to feel grounded in, so I have nowhere to even begin basing anything off of.

The controls are thus: use the arrow keys to move left and right, as well as the up arrow to jump. Personally, I’m not a fan of this, as I like my jump command to be binded to a different button than the movement keys as it can sometimes be tricky to press both in one direction and then up to leap over an obstacle. You use the mouse to advance dialogue by clicking on it. That’s it, which is more than enough for an exploratory platformer. Unfortunately, the fluidity of the jumping takes some getting used to and is not very accurate when you need it, such as jumping large gaps or from ledge to ledge. Plus, given that there is maybe one or two choices to make, dialogue should’ve scrolled automatically, with no input needed by the player.

A platformer with poor platforming controls should not be played. That’s a pretty obvious call, really. However, Coma is so gorgeous to look at and listen to that I urge everyone to push past the lackluster leaping to see the next screen, hear the next tune. I’m a sucker for fields where the grass sways and flowers bob as you brush past them, and that happens a lot here. There’s also a beautifully picturesque sequence involving a trampoline and clouds that I won’t say any more about. When Coma gets dark, it gets dark, and that’s fine, given the subject matter, but I much more preferred wandering around above ground than in the giant worm-infested darkness below.

Coma will most likely mean something different to everyone that plays it. For a short, relatively simple adventure gameplay-wise, reading a bunch of various interpretations about what Peter’s sister’s song means and the point of Mama Gomgossa’s ball game is nonetheless stimulating. Play, don’t trust the bird, and see what you see.

To think of shadows is a serious thing in Deadlight


Deadlight is all style, no substance, which results in a very cool-looking slice of perfunctory–and often clunky–2D action. A shame, really. Unfortunately, when it comes to playing videogames, looks only get you so far, and I found much of my so-far early goings with Deadlight frustrating and shrouded in obtuse darkness due to its shoddy controls, stilted voiceover work, and strange mix of gameplay styles. I’ll explain more shortly.

Deadlight is set in 1986, and a zombie plague has decimated the world. Or maybe it’s a shadow plague, since no one seems to like referring to them as anything other than shadows when clearly they are of the flesh-tearing, brain-munching zombie ilk. Just, y’know, wreathed in shadows. Anyways, you play as Randall Wayne, a grizzled survivor trying make his way through Seattle. Oh, and the way you know it’s the 1980s? Those cassette-tape loading animations and knockoff Tiger LCD handheld-game collectibles should clue you in. Otherwise, it’s just another dark, grim world. Your goal: reach the Safe Point.

Clearly inspired by literature works like Stephen King’s Cell, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, as well as taking cues from other side-scrolling games like Limbo and Out of This WorldDeadlight, early on, feels really good. Like, really good. I still don’t mean control-wise, but Tequila Works really nails the atmosphere of a world gone to shit, especially in the first act, where all the focus is getting through one scenario to another in a single piece, which often meant avoiding fighting shadows and using other methods to get around. Mr. Wayne is no supersoldier, just a guy taking advantage of everything around him to stay alive, and whistling at a zombie so it walks towards you and right into the pool of electrified water is hilariously satisfying.

There’s a little bit of everything in Deadlight. From the beginning, it’s mostly about running, jumping, climbing, crawling, and moving through the environments while avoiding enemies. This is all well and good, except the jumping feels sluggish, and when you let go of the analog stick Mr. Wayne continues to run a step or two further, which inevitably leads to messed-up jumps and other problems. Limbo‘s jumping never felt amazing, but that game moved at a much slower pace, even when a giant spider was chasing you. Combat comes in two forms: your ax or your gun. Ammo is limited, and I think I’ve used the gun more for solving puzzles than popping the heads of shadows off. You can swing your ax pretty well, but you’re limited by a stamina meter; all in all, the vibe is constantly avoid combat, and so that’s what I did. Lastly, there’s puzzle-solving, and a lot of what I’ve seen involves hitting switches/pulling levers and hightailing it somewhere else; alas, because of the previously mentioned problematic running, this can be a challenge, and Mr. Wayne suffered many deaths before the timing of it all could be determined. Trial and error is okay when implemented sporadically, but it really feels like every room you go into in Deadlight is designed to kill you first, then teach you how to live.

Again, it’s a shame the game plays so poorly and is unfocused, as visually, it’s astounding. Shadow Complex helped bridge the gap between 2D planes and 2D.5, and Deadlight uses this trick to create some stunning images of shadows appearing in the background and walking towards you from the distance. There’s a good amount of zooming in and out, highlighting different parts of the area, and a lot of it is well detailed despite the fact that Mr. Wayne is going to run past it all in a few minutes. While I found a lot of the voicework to be hammy, the art used in the cutscenes is what you’d expect if The Walking Dead comics were colored and a webcomic, and while they are a stark contrast to the actual gameplay graphics, they help build a consistency nonetheless.

I don’t know how much more is left to see in Deadlight. Currently, I’m still inside the Rat’s test chamber of terrible ways to kill one’s self. It’s not very clear how I’m supposed to get Mr. Wayne from one side of the room to the other, and all it takes is a misplaced jump to die and give me enough pause to reconsidering how I’m spending my gaming time. Might have to end up looking for an online walkthrough as my Xbox 360’s hard-drive is nearly filled, and I want to download and play Dust: An Elysian Tale, but in order to do that, I need to beat Deadlight and feel done enough with it to hit “uninstall.” It seems like it’s a pretty straightforward experience from beginning to end, though I can guarantee I won’t 100% it as I’m positive I’ve missed a secret or two along the way.

Playing the Ludum Dare 22 Winners, #3 – Last Breath

Oh man. I gotta hurry up and finish playing the top 10 from Ludum Dare 22 before the next Ludum Dare challenge takes place. Which is around the end of April 2012, and I think I can do it, as I only have three more games to try out: Last Breath, Abandoned, and Frostbite. All of them look simply fantastic in visual terms and are definitely platforms higher than those that came before them, which might just mean a pinch more of reflecting on my part. I can and will do this, and if Ludum Dare 23 goes well, I’d like to do it again as it’s a great push on myself to try out some smaller games I’d otherwise not even notice.

Like in Stray Whisker, Last Breath features an animal as your protagonist. This time it’s a dog, and it’s unclear if it’s a dead dog or a dog in limbo or a dog that was hit by a truck so hard that it flew into a hole in the ground which then opened up into a maze-like cavern–oh, and it also survived the impact. I guess all signs point more towards a limbo-based Canis lupus familiaris given this bit of text from creator deepnight:

The story of a dog trapped between life & death.
I can’t say much more, it would spoil the story 🙂

Anyways, after exploring this cavern a bit, you’ll discover multiple red balls and a shadow version of yourself, with eyes full of hatred. As soon as you begin to collect the balls, your shadow duplicate comes after you, literally shadowing your every move and eviscerating you upon touch. Your goal, from what I can tell as I was unable to even complete this part, is to collect all ten balls without the shadow dog killing you. This involves some planning as you can find yourself at a dead end for some balls, with no way out and the shadow beast closing in. The closest I got was a total of eight balls.

Last Breath, much like that silhouette XBLA darling Limbo, nails a lot of things: atmosphere, suspense, and gameplay. The pixel art and animation work is immediately charming, and I’ve had a deep love for that floating particle effect ever since I first played Fallout 3. The controls are simple, as the dog can move, jump, and cling–in a rather funny way–to ledges, and you’ll quickly go from exploring casually to running and jumping for your very being. The ambient music doesn’t change to reflect this, which is a shame, but it’s tense nonetheless. There’s obviously a best path to walk, but I didn’t figure it out after ten minutes or so.

Do try it, and good luck getting all those balls.

Playing the Ludum Dare 22 Winners, #5 – Stray Whisker

I don’t think Stray Whisker would’ve been as effective if it wasn’t for the fact that, just three weeks ago, Tara and I got two cats. Their names are Timmy and Pixie, and they are having a good time exploring and owning all the space within Grimmauld Place. I love them except when they vomit, poop, or put their smelly butt in my face when I’m trying to sleep. Conversely, I think they now love us, and I can say with confidence that one cat in particular–Ser Timmy of the Toylands–would go on a journey to find us if we ever abandoned him alone in the urban wilderness.

It’s a quiet game about just that though. A woman in pink leaves her kitty cat in a nondescript section of outside and just walks away. Maybe she can’t afford the cat anymore or doesn’t have room in the house with a new baby on the way or the cat threw up on her favorite pair of heels. We don’t know. We just know that, as the cat, we must get back to her. We must nuzzle her leg and be the greatest purr machine that ever purred. We must.

Gameplay is simple as it’s all controlled by the arrow keys. Left and right make the cat go left and right, respectively, and up gets it to jump. You can jump on to ledges and knock down pots in typical cat-like ways You are always moving right, and eventually you meet other cats and a not-so-friendly dog, but eventually you’ll find your master’s home, with your master at home upstairs. I got stuck here initially as I thought I was supposed to lead all the other strays back to the house with me, but that wasn’t it. Just had to climb into the house through the top window. Love achieved!

One moment in particular reminded me of Limbo, where you reach a new screen, get the quickest glimpse of your sister/owner at the edge of the opposite side, and do everything you can to reach her. It’s small, but effective, and made the reunion of cat and owner all the more precious. Also, kudos to Andrew Sum for the solid animation work. That cat’s tail is pretty authentic.

Total play time is under five minutes, unless that red ball really becomes a distraction. Get to it, cat fans.

30 Days of Gaming, #12 – A game everyone should play

Yup, a game about a voiceless, little boy trapped between the world of the living and the world of the dead, which is filled with deadly traps, one friggin’ scary spider, and evil children ready to eviscerate him…yeah, that’s the game everyone should play. Limbo–fun for the whole family!

I won a free download of Limbo last summer and thoroughly enjoyed my time lingering in the space between. Because of its simple controls and lack of overbearing narrative and on-screen tutorials, it’s a game one has to experience, learn as they go, become one with, and for that I have a story, a story I meant to tell long ago, but never got to it.

After beating Limbo, I had my wife Tara play it. I told her very little about the game prior; I sat her down in front of the TV, turned the Xbox 360 on, handed her a controller, and took my spot on the floor next to her to watch. Just watch. I did not say a word. I did not answer any of her questions or react to anything she said. The game had started some minutes ago, but she wasn’t aware yet as she hadn’t touched a button. Once she did, the little boy’s eyes opened, and she started moving through the forest. She ran right into the first bear trap, destryong the little boy, yelping–just like I had my first time. Then she tried to jump over it, dying again. I remember her getting frustrated, because there was no way to jump over the bear trap given where it was placed and the angle of the landscape. Then she discovered that the little boy could push and pull items. Again, I’ve still not said a word at this point; it was thrilling to watch her learn how this world worked, how to manipulate the environment. And she was doing so well…

…until the spider showed up.

Once the spider was crawling after her, she began to panick. The littly boy rushed forward without care, stumbling over ledges, falling down into pits, all in the hope to avoid the spider. Now there was an urgency to everything. And it took her some time learn how to have the spider hurt itself via one of those beartraps, with a teeny bit of nudging from me. Again, there’s only so much you can do in-game thanks to its sparse controls, but thinking outside of the limbo-box is definitely required. When the spider grabbed the little boy and covered him in webbing, she believed she had died again, slowly putting the controller down; however, that was not the case. There was much giggling as the boy, bound and gagged even more than Frodo by Shelob in The Two Towers (the book, natch), hopped as fast as possible to anywhere but there.

Unfortunately for Limbo, once the spider and early forest scenarios are done, the game stops being something to experience and more like something to solve. Like, it becomes very obvious that you’re really playing a puzzle game by the time the boy leaves the forest instead of an adventure title. I showed Tara some of the later scenes via YouTube, and that had been enough. She had experienced Limbo, also known as Run From That Spider. There was no need to ruin that with frustrating puzzles that the majority of the gaming community had to look up online for solutions. Still, it’s a game everyone should play, especially just the first hour or so. With little music and cutscenes to distract, you’re quickly brought into the unsafe world and tasked with exploring, something everyone can connect with, something I know I loved doing as a young boy. Sure, it’s a depressing time, an untold story of siblings separated, but its uniqueness is more than worth the sorrow.

So…have you played Limbo yet?


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.

An empty room, ready for doom and gloom

Sorry, dear readers of Grinding Down, but today’s gonna be extra light on content. I had a pretty horrific evening last night, and I’m still recovering from that…plus I think I got about three hours of sleep total. Coffee is keeping me going, as are phone calls and the thought of something cool to drink after work, but ultimately, I’m a headmess.

Also, throw in the fact that I beat Limbo last night, and, well, the depression deepens. I wasn’t ready for it to end; it ended nonetheless. There’s a staggering connection between the boy’s trip through the unknown and my life as it is, and one day I’d like to talk about what I see here, but I just can’t yet. It’s too…tangible. The game’s ending left me feeling cold and unloved, as well as strangely satisfied. It’s definitely a doozy, one worthy of exploration.

But yeah. This is it for today. I gotta give my brainwires a rest.

Ironically, Limbo doesn’t last very long

Well, that’s what every single review seems to like to talk about. Sure, they praise the game’s stark graphics, its haunting and effective gameplay, as well as the use of music and sound. But it all then boils down to this: Limbo is too short, ranging from three to five hours, for $15.00.

However, I’m still playing Limbo, still enjoying it a lot, bit by bit, and that’s kind of the difference I think in all of this. Game journalism reviews and non-journalistic reviews; two different beasts, one black, one white, with two different motivators behind them and no gray mist in-between. One plays a game as fast as possible, with a deadline looming and words to write/videos to record, and a second game on the pile waiting to be played. The other…well, we just play the game and write about it as we go or whenever we finish. Or heck, even weeks later. There’s no rush. The world’s not ending until 2012 anyways.

Recently, Kyle Orland of the now defunct Games for Lunch wrote about this oddity over at Gamasutra. It’s an excellent article that examines why this issue of length and hours of gameplay is so much more important to specific folk. This idea of a set game length…it’s pretty absurd. Everyone plays a game differently, and everyone gets a different experience that way. Take me. Despite what this blog might project, I don’t play a lot of videogames. My time is of the essence. I have to often squeeze in gaming time from 10 at night until 1 in the morning, and then the weekend, if I’m lucky, is mostly devoted to my Nintendo DS.

The fact that I got Limbo for free last week and have still not beaten it…is great for me. I like sitting down, playing it for about thirty to forty minutes until I get stuck, and then moving on to something else for a bit. I’m in no hurry to plow through the game itself, just to see how long it takes me and then claim that, “Wah, wah, it’s not long enough!” Well, you can always make it longer…by playing with it less.

Wow, that last sentence is full of innuendo.

Plus, Limbo is full of hidden eggs. Not Easter eggs. Hidden eggs. Sneaky, devilish, Solid Snake-like eggs that are super good at hiding from you. Some are tied to Achievements, and others exist just to build up your completion percentage as high as it goes. Right now, I’m not concerning myself too hard with finding all these eggs, but they’ll add some replay value when I go back a second time to hunt them all down. I’m thinking I’m about 60% through the entire game…kind of hard to guess at this point.

So, I don’t know. Limbo is a really beautiful, creepy, and clever game. You can make it as long or short as you want, and reviews shouldn’t sway anyone on whether it’s length is a determining factor for a purchase or not. This game is an instanct classic and just has to be played. I’ll most likely finish it up this week, but will definitely come back to it for more.

The afterlife better not be like this

I’m stuck in Limbo.

That’s both a funny, commonplace phrase for us Catholics, as well as my current state of progress within the XBLA downloadable platformer of the same name. I won a free copy of it yesterday and was very excited to sit down and play before going to bed. However, maybe playing this kind of game before bed isn’t the best idea; it’s depressing and dark, hollow and haunting, a sick trip into the unsafe bowels of somewhere, and the only way to get that creepy spider out of my brain was to wash this experience down with some light-hearted UNO afterwards.

I won two games, and lost the third to some twittery brat…if you were curious.

Right. So, Limbo. It’s beyond creepy, and it sucks you right in, and before you know it, you’re walking through a soundless world, unsure of what’s next, falling into bear traps and pitfalls and the clutches of one particularly evil spider. It looks fantastic and mesmerizing; however, all previous complaints about the lack of storytelling ring true. I ended up staring at the opening screen for a good five minutes before I realized, oh, hey, I’m in control of the character now. But why am I in control of the silhouette boy with white eyes? ::shrugs:: A glimpse at the description box from the download menu clues me in that I’m searching for my lost sister, but the game itself tells us nothing.

I have to believe though that the game’s developers are fans of I Wanna be the Guy, a game that is as masochistic as it gets. In IWBTG, players meet untimely–and timely–deaths just by doing as they’ve been trained to do for years. They will jump from platform to platform only to get destroyed by a falling block of spikes that falls the moment you land on the platform. The game is designed to mess with our heads, as well as undo everything we’ve ever learned about the platformer genre. Limbo is cut from the same cloth, and you’ll have to die to figure out how to survive the harsh underworld and all its peril. Which breaks my heart because there’s an Achievement tied to beating the game in one sitting with five or less deaths; I stopped counting around death #20, and so I must just give up all hope on ever getting that one. I hate death-themed Achievements, remember? Other Achievements seem to rely on the main character finding eggs and then breaking them. Here’s the two I got so far:

Wrong Way (5G): That’s not right

Altitude is attitude (5G): Exploration off the ground

No real explanation for this egg thingy, but if I was to speculate, it’d have something to do with a giant chicken kidnapping his sister and this is his bit-by-bit revenge plan. Again, you kind of have no story here so it’s free game to make it all up yourself.

I probably played for a little over an hour last night, and ended up getting stuck at one part. There’s a worm that drops onto your head and messes up how you steer the boy, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to get rid of it; the mind-controlling parasite keeps walking me straight into a death-pit. Will have to give it some time, as I’m sure the answer is right there before me. Trial and error is your best guide.

Either way, it’s hard not to love Limbo for its art style alone. The stark blacks and whites–and soft, misty grays in the background–really bring about an atmosphere unlike any other game. Sure, it’s depressing as all gets, and the lack of music might drive some gamers nuts, but I found myself really immersed. Especially when some items in the foreground block your vision of the boy; I will actually lean forward in my chair, trying to get a better view, as if that’s even possible.

Alas, I won’t be able to play again until the end of the weekend.