REVIEW: Limbo – A strong argument for video games as an art form, or hipster indie garbage?

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Played on: Xbox 360
Played for: About 4 or 5 hours to finish up the storyline and nab a few hidden eggs.

Limbo is the first game released by Danish developer Playdead and made its debut on the Xbox 360 back in July of 2010. It’s now three years later and I finally decided to pick up and play through a game that intrigues me every single time I browse the XBLA collection for something new.

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Why I never jumped on the Limbo bandwagon before, I’ll never know. I loved the demo, the art style and the “trial by dying” method of puzzle solving, but I also knew the game was only about 3-4 hours long and fetched a hefty (by arcade standards) $15.00 price tag. In retrospect, you’d spend close to that watching a 1-2 hour movie in a theater without any option to go back and experience it again in the future for no extra cost, so that was a pretty silly basis for comparison on my part.

Limbo does little to explain the method behind why, exactly, you’d want to guide an unnamed figure across a monochromatic world with zero dialogue, a minimalistic approach to background music and a simple platform concept, but somehow it works.

You start off your journey waking up in a forest with only the view of shadows and silhouettes to guide you along. As you travel from left to right, various situations present themselves that require basic “pull this switch” or “push that box” problem solving, with the added spice of death lingering in every delicious spoonful.

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As the name implies, Limbo delves in to the Atari mentality of “play, die, play again“, with each mistake ending in your untimely demise and every victory leading to yet another life or death situation. It’s fantastic. Puzzles are typically well thought out and take a bit of the ol’ trial and error to proceed, but nothing beats the feeling of chewing glass for an hour only to have something click in your brain and POW! Problem solved. Queue bear trap death or Indiana Jones boulder scene.

Some of you may be turned off by the simplistic nature of Limbo, but not in the same sense as, say, Minecraft. Limbo is an easy game to describe, but it’s quite the experience that needs to be dealt with hands-on. You won’t get the same sense of accomplishment watching a Let’s Play on YouTube or even watching your friends play it in person. It definitely needs to be soaked in like a good book, but somehow Limbo does so without having any words any all.

The Verdict – A-

In short, Limbo is one part Heart of Darkness, one part Oddworld and one part silent horror film, blended firmly with broken glass, giant spiders and endless pitfalls. It’s a fantastic little puzzle platformer with a unique art style, a spartan approach to storytelling and and eerie atmosphere that makes you want to push on to the next chapter just to see what Playdead could pull off with each new puzzle and new ways to kill yourself in the process.

While I firmly enjoyed my time in Limbo, I did end up wishing it lasted a bit longer. That’s what she said.

I know this was a short review, but Limbo is a short experience. It’s definitely one that will stick with me for a very long time and something I’d come back to later for another go ’round, no doubt dying repeatedly as I remember the solutions that stumped me today.

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