Limbo - Xbox Live Arcade

I died a total of 75 times.

It was near the beginning when I realized that I was going to be dying a lot playing LIMBO, and in the end, give or take a few that I may not have marked, I died 75 times. Yes, that’s a lot, but it’s also not necessarily a bad thing.

LIMBO is apparently about a boy trying to find his sister in the hell edge world of LIMBO, where everything and everyone in his path just wants him dead. I say “apparently” because its not overly clear while playing LIMBO why the boy is in this world or who the girl even is he’s looking for. It takes a bit of outside research to even find that out, but does it even matter? Read on to find out.

The game is a standard puzzle/platformer. Made popular initially by the success of Braid, which was coincidentally released during the inaugural Summer of Arcade in 2008, the puzzle/platforming genre has really founds its legs here. Using a minimalist approach, LIMBO is separated into 25 chapters, each with its own distinct puzzle section. The hero of the title moves between each chapter seamlessly, creating a surreal feel of one giant impressive level. The minimalist feel of the game is turned up to 11, as no music, voice, HUD, colour, or lives are listed anywhere on the screen, you simply start the game and begin moving forward. The initial menu screen is the only constant, and you are never shown things like “press A to jump” or “Chapter 3, START!”. My first time through it even took me a few minutes to figure out that I could grab and drag a box, something you will do constantly during the roughly 4 hour game.

Puzzles range from simply moving blocks to reach higher ledges, to rotating chapters that spin and change gravity as you move through them. Everything has real world physics and weight applied to them and you will be killed by a lot of it; a falling crate will crush you rather than gingerly glance off your face. These elements are changed up with puzzles including water, giant spiders, and even murderous locals. I hate to get into too much detail for fear of giving too much away, but it’s safe to say that the variety in the game is sufficient enough to keep you entertained and wondering how to use the physics to your advantage till the bitter end. 

Yes the game is fantastic, but it isn’t without its shortcomings. You will unexpectedly die quite a bit, and at times it almost seems like there is little way to know that something would kill you in advance of it doing just that. The best thing they did to levy that issue though is the almost instantaneous load time from death to restart. You are basically propped down at the exact spot you perished and are back to trying the puzzle again within seconds. Should this have taken any extra time, it would have completely ruined the experience. Also, as I mentioned before, the game has a very minimalist feel, and every once in a while it can really work against it. A few puzzles can become overly frustrating without any sort of explanation given as to how it might be solved, but then once it does become clear, you’ll want to kick yourself for not seeing it sooner.

The other big issue is replayability. I may be alone here, but due to its short length, LIMBO could have lent itself perfectly a speed-run mode, and unfortunately nothing was built around that. Instead, you have the standard achievement hunt, which if you don’t cheat for can feel like a real accomplishment. 

In the end though, these deficiencies cannot take away from the fact that the time spent with LIMBO is an enjoyable one. The minimalist approach is immediately engaging, the puzzles are difficult and enjoyable, the chapters and mechanics are varied and impressive, and overall, the game is just a solid puzzle game with some of the best platforming I’ve seen in a long time.

A fantastic way to start the Summer of Arcade 2010.