LIMBO redefines the concept of an arcade title and provides one of the best titles ever seen of an arcade game since Braid. Developer Playdead’s Limbo amalgamates a level of perfection between the contrast of the utterly black, the disparate, the unknown, and moreover the lonely in a cathartic journey into an unknown protagonist. The gameplay is genius yet simplistic in its design to constantly progress puzzle platforming adventure to a new dimension of stillness, giving a level of breath-taking ambiance that overwhelms and serves to remind the audience that there is still originality in something that starts off waking up in the middle of the forest without any memory.
Limbo begins in the most unusual landscape. A vignette of a forest is revealed, while you playing a small boy slowly awakes and blinks his eyes as if there is emptiness to the context of the exposition. As you awake in the forest, you set out across the way to essentially figure out where you are and partly discover the intent of your exploration further, unbeknownst to the actual person playing Limbo and the protagonist unnamed boy himself. The exposition is not widely detailed, but the title serves to inform in terms of ancient Christian church principles of “Limbo” meaning to the edge of Hell, a boundary where those who commit original sin end up without actually being given hell. The title, while straightforward, gives rise to the exceptional and constantly developing plot of Limbo that is never truly clear but open to interpretation until the very end. There is a level of unknown shock and mind-enthralling nature to Limbo, as the contrast between the black vignette and the white as a representation of pure light highlights the level of storyline detail that can simply flow out at the viewer based on the ambiance of the environment alone. The ambiance and monochromatic 2-tone scale environment of Limbo is something Art Jensen, game director at Playdead did with a subtle nuance along with the rest of the developers ranging to 16 people. The film noir abstract style of Limbo is one of the most powerful things we have come to ever see regardless of the fact of the style and focusing techniques used in the technicality of the game’s overall design, but also because of the way it utilizes other elements within the actual gameplay mode of Limbo.
Limbo consists of puzzles which are minimalistic, but this is where the fusion between the art style and the actual puzzle-platform adventure takes place. Jeppe Carlsen, the game’s puzzle designer, told us that he set out to make a title which provided satisfaction to the solution, this being life in a seemingly lifeless world. The gameplay mechanic consistently shifts with each puzzle adventure, being different and utilizing various aspects of timing, and control of certain elements, not to mention a retrospective action element in certain instances where a player is forced to run back to a puzzle previously completely, a level of coherent tact which does not involve backtracking negatively which is all rarely seen in most games with puzzles that have the player just run ahead. The gameplay design of every puzzle utilizes the main elements of sound, visual cues, and heightened minimalism essentially when a player feels helpless in a seemingly grim world due to the natural fright of a contrast of the environment’s black and white contrasting art design. This minimalistic design nature of Limbo is so reminiscent of very few past titles and especially of the title ‘Braid,’ a world that has undeniable elements similar to Limbo. Items will drop when a player least expects them, and other times puzzles require an ingenious use of simplistic thought applied in a reasonable way. Deaths are particularly a horrid and yet purposeful reminder not to make the same mistakes, but there is never a penalty for dying within the space of Limbo. Whether or not spiders or even the other kids trying to harm you are running around in this level of specific void, the player can never truly tell how to interpret the world as realistic or as a true limbo depiction of Heaven or Hell. This very concept of Limbo’s entire environment art design translates into the gameplay mechanics with a parapsychological twist that is undyingly memorable and something which no one can ever forget after they experience Limbo.
Limbo, for whatever the meaning of the title, reveals one thing in all its gameplay, visual, ambient and environmental presentations: genius. Limbo is undoubtedly better than Braid in some ways and more than enough of its equal to match as one of the best video game titles we have played for under $59.99 MSRP. The sounds are riveting, the environment and music is frighteningly encapsulating, and the thought of thematic elements and the general storyline direction makes the perfect harmony in the chaotic despair that Limbo truly is. Limbo ceases to stop being a game and becomes every players journey into the vast void that Limbo becomes, rather than the unnamed boy that wakes up in the forest. We wake up in the forest and embark on a journey where we end up ultimately deciding what the word Limbo means to us.