For the first time in weeks I didn’t have to take my animals to the boarding kennel today or pack my suitcase for an overseas trip. So I did nothing. Watched TV, played WoW, wandered down to my local shop to get the few necessities I couldn’t do without until tomorrow (milk, cat food, orange & mango mineral water), napped. And then tonight, I poured myself a glass of wine and downloaded Limbo, a puzzle platformer from Xbox Arcade.
What an amazing game.
It’s surprisingly beautiful. Granted, it’s very dark and you probably have to like black and white. But it’s got a fantastic, ethereal aesthetic. Misty and gauzy, with a slight vignette effect. It suits the plot to a tee.
The plot isn’t all that well established through the gameplay, but from what I’ve read on the web it deals with a small boy’s journey through a kind of Purgatory. Hence, ‘Limbo’.
Gameplay is simple – there are only two buttons: run and interact (which so far I’ve found limited to ‘pull’). You also jump, of course, but that’s about it. For me the simplicity is part of its appeal. There’s not much to remember or master, leaving you free to be immersed by the world and the puzzles you encounter.
Perhaps because it is so atmospheric, I found myself being startled, feeling fear. Things you don’t necessarily assume with a puzzle platformer. It’s been compared to Braid, and I can see why. Both are beautiful games, though Braid is a bit more complex with the whole ‘reverse time’ mechanic. They have a different pace than most platformers – less of a race and more about the journey. But Limbo has the emotional dimension that Braid doesn’t have. And that’s what lifts it for me.
It is, at times, a bit gory even though it’s in black and white and the characters are never (or at least so far) anything more than silhouettes. You get impaled in a variety of ways, and corpses are scattered throughout your journey (it is Purgatory, after all). But there’s a gore filter if you find your deaths a bit disturbing. To me it just heightens the tension.
Limbo’s not a long game. I played for about an hour and am 28% done (the game measures how much you’ve done), but I’m assuming my progress will slow as the game get harder. It is, however, one of those games where you will spend a fair bit of time trying something, seeing how it works, dying in the process and then trying it again. And ‘how it works’ isn’t always obvious in the first or even second go. Some people may find that frustrating, but most puzzles I’ve encountered so far can be worked out without hurling your controller across the room or reverting to a walkthrough. Apparently it gets harder. A lot harder
Limbo is 1200 Microsoft points, which is a fair bit. But it’s worth it. I’m looking forward to spending next Friday night back in Purgatory.