Limbo Review (XBLA)

Posted by Jim Cook, Jul 19, 2010 19:10

Limbo is a title many have been looking forward to ever since trailers and gameplay videos for it emerged. Using little more than black, gray, and white for its graphics along with an extremely limited set of sound and music, Limbo was clearly trying to impress people both with its minimalist presentation and ’platform puzzler’ play. Taking control of a boy with modest athletic skill and little else to his credit, your job is to solve a variety of puzzles; get that crate to the edge of the wall so you can climb over, figure out how to balance an object over a long gap with only a pair of small movable platforms to work with, and so on. Braid and The Lost Vikings are the obvious comparisons here, and if you enjoy games along those lines then your 1200 Microsoft Points/$15 will be well spent here.

The game’s obvious defining trait is its presentation. There is very little music, mostly played in short bursts during very tense moments, and aside from the boy’s footsteps you only hear sounds when they are very important. The same is true of the game’s art style; almost everything is black, with some gray and white used to highlight objects you need to notice. Despite this, the world of Limbo is very well animated and detailed; grass rustles, dangling chains will sway back and forth, and various creatures you come across move quite vividly. The end result is the world of Limbo is a very dangerous, creepy, and lonely place; most of the creatures you encounter are out to kill the boy, and they punctuate long stretches of being alone.

Puzzles in Limbo are mostly mental in nature; the emphasis is usually on knowing what to do and catching visual cues rather than having top-notch platforming skills and reflexes. While those abilities will be tested on occasion, the majority of the puzzles simply ask that you be observant rather than fast. Failure is both severe and trivial at the same time, since messing up means the boy will be killed in some violent, often bloody fashion as he’s torn apart by a creature, shot to pieces by a heavy gun emplacement, or crushed beneath a steel column. On the other hand, death is always temporary... you have unlimited ’lives’ and death usually returns you to a checkpoint save anywhere from fifteen seconds to two minutes ago, so little effort is lost.

Most of the puzzles are very well laid out, such that you can expect to fail at them only a few times apiece on your first run through and you’ll usually learn a little more about your mistake each time. Perhaps you jumped too soon, or didn’t notice a trap falling from the ceiling, or need to position that crate so it slows a problem down just enough for you to escape the situation... whatever it is, you’ll usually get it right quickly. There are a few puzzles that require either exceptional timing or non-intuitive solutions, but they’re in the minority.

Limbo also deserves credit for excellent controls. Everything is intuitive and works almost exactly as you’d expect, and there were only a few occasions where I found my character did things I didn’t intend to. While the boy may be limited in what he can do, he does almost all of it precisely as you want and this does a lot to keep Limbo interesting and entertaining.

Aside from those various minor flaws, the only real issue with Limbo is its length; depending on how quickly you understand things the game will last somewhere around two to six hours, with perhaps a little more if you feel like pursuing some of the Achievements. On the other hand, most of this short game is very satisfying. If you’re looking for a good single-player experience, Limbo is definitely that and you’ll probably find your money well spent.

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Our Rating for Limbo Review (XBLA)
4.5 Replay
As a linear single-player game, you might come back for a ’low deaths’ speed run (something one Achievement explicitly encourages), but that is perhaps all.
7.0 Graphics
Very well animated and detailed despite being limited to just using black, gray, and white for color. On the other hand, this same approach makes it easy to not see a few clues.
8.0 Sound
There is almost no soundtrack to speak of, with music only used during very important moments. The same is true of the sound effects, which are distinct and meaningful. That you have little to listen to only contributes to the lonely motif Limbo aims for.
8.5 Gameplay
Excellent controls and mostly intuitive yet clever puzzles keep things fun. The only problem is a few clues are easily missed, and one or two puzzles have very bizarre solutions.
2.0 Multiplayer/Online Content
There are online leaderboards but little else. This is fine; it is an excellent single-player game.
8.5 Overall
Short but excellent, Limbo starts the Summer of Arcade promotion with a fantastic puzzle platformer.

Rating: 0.0, votes: 0

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