Platformers have seen a resurgence of late. Be it the wildly successful Super Mario Galaxy games on the Wii, the ubiquitous Ratchet and Clank series on the PS3, or the seemingly endless supply of indie titles on the Xbox 360 and PC, it appears that creating games that have people jumping around is a fairly lucrative business. And then you have Limbo, which turns the whole genre on its head and makes it its bitch. About time too, and here’s why.
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Unlike every other platformer in the known universe, Limbo doesn’t feature cutesy characters and an eye raping color palette that would put Govinda’s wardrobe to shame. In Limbo, you’re essentially moving about in a world wrapped in shadows, monochrome hues, and eerie ambient sound effects, giving it a feel reminiscent of something out of a horror flick rather than a video game. You have no clear idea where you’re going, nor do you have a crystal clear view of the obstacles around you. You are, for all practical purposes, stumbling in the dark. And stumble you shall through gorgeous environments ranging from forests to industrial areas, all portrayed in stark black and white goodness. Playing through Limbo left me with a heady mix of dread and morbid curiosity to see what would happen next.
The game doesn’t feature any of the narrative trappings contemporary video games are known for. No sweeping cut scenes, no expansive dialogues, and no lengthy explanations. You’re just thrown into the gaming world without so much as a warning. So much so that I spent a good 2-3 minutes at the beginning with my character on the ground without pressing a button on the controller in anticipation of an opening sequence, which obviously never came. It’s a throwback to the early days of video games and goes to show how pampered a lot we’ve become.
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There’s no in-game explanation to the plot either. All you know of Limbo is the description on XBLA, which is perhaps the only place where Playdead have adhered to standard platforming cliches. According to the description, you’re doing all this jumping and puzzle solving to rescue someone; in this case, it’s your sister. The best part about this, in the post-Inception world we live in, is that it leaves the narrative completely up to interpretation, much like last year’s indie darling Braid, which is a sublime touch that gives you a lot to think about.
However, minimalistic design and atypical presentation alone aren’t enough to make a game. Limbo is one of the better made platformers in the area that matters the most – the controls. One button for jumping, and another for activating in-game items is all you need. It handles well and it’s responsive. Add puzzles that are fairly intuitive (one involving a hamster, a wheel and food comes to mind) rather than the frustrating sort we’re usually subject to, and you have a game that broke my uniqueness meter.
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By the way this review is reading, you’d think it’s headed for a perfect score, and for a while, so did I. But then I remembered that you’d have to shell out 1200 MS Points to play a game that’s, at best, six hours long. Given that you have far more content and gameplay available for the same price elsewhere, it does make Limbo a bit of a downer, even if it is a genre-defining title.
All said and done, Limbo is by far the most impressive platformer this year, which says a lot considering we have a Mario game out too. It’s a tragedy that its high price on XBLA would limit it to being a critical success, when it could be a stand out example for games to be more than just games or entertainment, because it truly goes beyond that.
(+) Faptastic art-style
(+) Sweet puzzles and controls
Developer/Publisher: Playdead Games/Microsoft
Platforms: Xbox 360/Xbox LIVE Arcade (1200 MS Points)
Reviewed on: Xbox 360