aSony has had the lock on truly original and experimental downloadable titles on their PlayStation Store since the start. Microsoft, on the other hand, has tended to play things more traditional side with their releases. Limbo, however, is a distinctive step to the dark and nontraditional side for the 360. At heart, the game is a simple, challenging puzzle-based platformer—and a good one—but the execution is anything but traditional.

Fans of the genre might feel nostalgic tugs toward the original innovators of the genre—Out of this World, Flashback, Heart of Darkness… All games that mixed platformer gameplay with intelligent and often extremely difficult puzzles, amidst a menace atmosphere. Limbo is absolutely an exercise in style more than anything else. The game takes simple, familiar gameplay into a dark, amazingly disturbing environment.

There’s no real set-up. In fact, the description in the Live store is the only real bit of information you’ll get on the game’s story. You play a young boy whose sister has disappeared into, presumably, Limbo, or at least some dark, horrible place where gory death is a constant companion.

Limbo is distinctive entirely due to its minimalistic presentation. The game is completely black and white. There’s almost no music at all, no dialogue, and the sound effects are nearly completely ambient in nature. The landscape is dark and depressing, and the aural effects are perfectly tuned to convey the stark nature of the game’s world.

Although the visuals might be simple, Limbo is still gorgeously macabre. The character animations are fluid, the eerie forests and bizarrely, primitive structures have just enough detail to invoke an almost primal sense of dread. This dread is further compounded by the main character. The nameless little boy you control might not be completely helpless—he’s a hell of a jumper and climber—but he’s still a child completely lost in a hostile environment.

The boy has no weapons except his wits, and the gameplay boils down to jumping, climbing, and pulling or pushing objects to continue onward. There’s no attack mechanism here, and the design of the game makes no special allowances for the poor kid. Brutal death is everywhere, especially since your first time through with be almost entirely reliant on gruesome trial and error.

Huge bear traps will pop the boy’s head off, trap spikes impale him, a giant spider will make a lunch out him, along with other traps and the frequent danger of drowning. Limbo is absolutely not a game for children. In fact, if there’s a chance a kid might run through the room while playing, it’s recommended to have the parental controls on, which make the constant deaths less graphically brutal.

If such matters aren’t an issue, the only real complaint in Limbo is its short and sudden nature. Thorough explorers will probably get to the end in, at most, four or five hours. Future playthroughs will likely take little more than an hour. The lack of any narrative structure means little resolve or explanation of the how and whys of this boy’s terrible, therapy-inducing journey. For a cheap downloadable game, such shortcomings are acceptable. But given just how polished, deep, and beautifully disturbing Limbo is, most gamers will be left wanting something more than merely a short exercise in demented atmosphere and puzzle-solving.

The Blast Factor: It’s hardly a terrible thing to say that players will love the game so much that they’ll be left wanting more. Such is the case with Limbo. It’s artistic, challenging, and, despite its utter sense of minimalism, more emotionally involving than almost any game you’re likely to find.

About The Author

Jason D’Aprile has been writing about technology, games, movies, and gadgets for the last three decades. His musings on all of the above can be found at Jason only condones virtual violence and wishes we could all just get along.

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