The uncertain period—limbo, that time spent awaiting a resolution, a direction. For some it’s a spiritual status between heaven, hell, and the favor of God. For others it’s a state of being, or more accurately a state not being. The indie game developer Playdead has brought us limbo personified in the form of a puzzling side-scroller by the same name, Limbo.
Side-scrollers have a long history in the world of gaming. Walking from left to right is a pastime for anyone whose held a corded controller. Traversing obstacles, leaping over pits, and climbing ladders—nothing new here. Limbo, as the embodiment of uncertainty, adds a dark twist to the genre. Set in an almost entirely pitch black world, we find ourselves wandering around in the dark. With nothing more then a set of blinking white eyes and the occasional light source, Limbo presents a minimal approach to an immersive environment. It might be hard to wrap your head around this, but the absence of detail adds so much to the experience. Less truly is more.
Starting up Limbo you’ll get a brief title screen and immediately begin the game. No obvious menus to navigate. No controller walkthrough. No backstory. No cut scenes. Just you, the game, and your discomfort. The discomfort turns to curiosity as you start swiping around the screen (this review revolves around the iPad version of Limbo). A tap here and a swipe there your suddenly completely in control of the situation—but what’s the objective? Who am I? Why am I here? What is that noise? Where is it coming from? And honestly, WTF? It won’t take you long to discover that Limbo is a puzzle game disguised as a side-scroller. I’m hesitant to get into much more detail about the gameplay itself because the majority of the joy I got from playing this game was discovering what to do, how to do it, and why.
The long standing argument of “can games be art?” is easily brought to question under the guise of Limbo. There is no question—Limbo is interactive art. The visuals are an amalgamation of beauty and horror. The soundtrack is calming, foreboding, and bordering on white noise. Limbo is amazing and terrible for all the right reasons. Coming from the world of indie game development, it’s games like this that bolsters our faith that there are new ideas out there yet to be thought and people that are willing to take risks to realize them.