Back in 1974, a Hungarian sculptor by the name of Ernő Rubik invented a ‘Magic Cube’. Used as a teaching tool to assist his architectural students, this 3x3x3 cube is now known as the Rubik’s cube – after it’s inventor – and has become the world’s top-selling puzzle game. Now whilst the possible complexity of Budapest-invented cube vastly outweighs that of this Danish developed puzzle-platfomer, Limbo shares a common attribute. Both puzzlers revolved around a simple mechanic that ultimately provides a complex and challenging task.
Independent developer PlayDead’s first project Limbo, is a stylish and quite brilliant monochrome side-scroller. Aside from the opening knowing that “Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters Limbo“, there is no text, no speech, not a single hint throughout the entirety of the game. You are left to your own solitude to solve the puzzles as required.
Immediately the stunningly unique, and just stunning, art style is gripping and moving; whilst the emphasis on the story is limited, the visual cues dotted about means there is always that curiosity bubbling underneath the surface. Like attempting to catch the Golden Snitch, the platforming is simple in premise but not in practise. A noticeable lack of bells and whistles throughout the levels, even any and all forms of signposting results in a MacGyver-esque approach to escapism, by just having to use all available tools. The result is a series of logic based puzzles; if there is a box, it’s to be climbed or pushed, spikes are to be avoided as they are sharp – and we know that sharp things are dangerous – and if there’s a giant spider, it probably wants to kill you.
The approach to puzzles are logical and highly creative, mixing it up as the story progresses with more advanced, but equally more satisfying gameplay. Often a trial-and-error approach will be required as experimentation is needed, yet this never becomes frustrating as the detail in the death animations are obviously for your own personal enjoyment and you’re back into the game before you realised. Using a sophisticated physics system, both the environmental objects and the boy move with a grace hard to find in modern titles. If you’re not jumping, pushing, pulling or climbing, you’re exploring the location trying to work of the current crafty puzzle. During the brief moments that progression seems impossible, that cognitive cog will turn as you realise what a fool you have been all along; you may even feel the need to reward your intelligence with a treat, another chapter is it then. With no prompting or hinting, the minimalistic approach works wonders in creating some of the most rewarding puzzles of recent times and the subtle teaching and progressive increase in difficulty ensures a smooth and cohesive experience.
As with it’s graphical and gameplay approach, this black and white adventure relies not on an expensive orchestral soundtrack or a star-studded cast of voice actors, choosing the less-is-more approach to audio design. Aside from the pitter-patter of the boys footsteps as he runs through the hellish woods, a profound silence was your closest companion. Any additional sound became highly noticeable and only heightened an already immersive and thrilling experience.A+
Limbo will be mentioned in the same breathes as Portal, Braid and Flower; as masterpieces of this generation, set apart from the usual stream of titles by a mixture of superb originality, brilliant execution and a must-play experience. It may be short in duration – around three hours – but this is all about quality over quantity. It really is one of the most charming and refined games to be released this year and you owe it to yourself to give this a go. Much like the boy running through the woods, you have only a loose grasp as to what’s really going on, yet all of the time, it’s a gripping and truly sublime affair.