We have already discussed whether or not a good story is necessary for a game to be considered “good”, and Limbo adds another hash mark to the “no” column. It takes minimalism in gaming beyond what you thought possible.
Technically, Limbo does have a story: a young boy is searching for his sister. That’s it. That’s the entire story line. Throughout the entirety of Limbo’s 3-5 hour length (depending on how quickly you figure out the puzzles), there isn’t a single word spoken. Not a single line of dialogue appears on the screen, not a single cut scene…in fact, the only reason I can even tell you the he is supposedly searching for his sister is because it was mentioned in the “info” box on XBLA. Limbo’s storyline is basically left up to the player…is this boy really traversing jungles and factories, searching for his sister? Is he on some drug-induced bender, and the whole thing is playing out in his head? Or is the whole thing just a dream? It’s entirely up to you. I have my own theories (which isn’t one of the general theories I just mentioned), but I don’t want to taint your experience by telling it to you. (However, feel free to leave comments about what you think is going on!)
At first glance, Limbo sounds like a ripoff. $15 for an XBLA game you can literally finish in a single sitting after getting home from work? Meh. However, I would have gladly paid $30 for this experience. Let’s break down the individual components that make Limbo, in my opinion, an instant classic.
Limbo’s visual style is unbelievably striking. With quality reminiscent of movies from the 1920′s (and earlier), Limbo’s black-and-grey style is a major part of the game’s enjoyment. I don’t generally include visual style as a big reason for liking a game, but Limbo’s graphics simply cannot be overlooked. Seeing it in motion is even more amazing. Remember the first time you saw Earthworm Jim on an SNES, marveling at how smoothly animated everything was? Limbo is the same way. Even though it’s a modern title, I was still surprised at just how fluid and detailed all of the animations are.
Like Braid, Limbo’s puzzles aren’t just the “find a key” variety. Each one is entirely unique; none of them are too difficult to figure out, but there is no “way of thinking” that will get you through them. Just because something worked once doesn’t mean it will work again…each puzzle requires its own unique solution. They are all simple on their surface; you will never be at a point where you can’t figure out what you’re supposed to do…it’s the how that you will struggle with.
The puzzles themselves feel almost like some sort of test used to determine IQ. The solutions primarily require logic to solve, and some elegantly simple solutions will seem impossible to recognize when faced with the challenge.
As some of you may know, I create spacey ambient and drone-based music as a hobby. I love experimenting with textures and soundscapes…which is exactly what the music in Limbo is. Smooth, uncluttered textures with intermittent moments of excited shock when the action in-game heats up. Much like the storyline and visual style, the music in Limbo is extremely minimalist…but for the type of textures and soundscapes used, it’s beautifully made stuff. There are even a couple of moments in the soundtrack that have inspired me in my own music. If you enjoy exquisite texture work or visual-inducing soundscapes, pay close attention to the music in Limbo.
Limbo is one of those games that I refer to as an experience. While you are playing it, the whole world seems to melt away…it’s just you, a little boy with (seemingly) glowing eyes, and this dangerous world that you have to traverse. I highly recommend you play it in the dark with a good set of headphones.
From a price-to-game length perspective, Limbo may seem like it isn’t worth your money…but trust me, it is. Despite my best efforts, I still can’t really convey what it’s like to play this game. Turn out the lights, turn up the volume, and get lost in Limbo. Do it! Do it now!