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Ugh, stop twitching
limbo -- one-hour review
games Posted 2010-08-05 21:52:34 by Jim Crawford
Limbo is a puzzle platformer for the Xbox 360 by Playdead Studios.

(Yes, I totally ripped this format off of Games For Lunch.)

0:00 Film grain on a 1940s-era title card. Classy.
0:01 The black and white certainly is arty, but my eyes are just begging for color right now. Maybe I'll get used to it.
0:01 I've been staring at this shot of the forest for a while. I wonder if I'm supposed to be doing something.
0:02 Yeah, I waggled some sticks and pressed some buttons until a little silhouette boy woke up on the forest floor.
0:02 The frame rate shockingly low. 20hz, maybe? That'd be unacceptable even in a 3D game nowadays, let alone a side-scroller.
0:03 Maybe it's supposed to have a film-like frame rate. The trick is, film doesn't look like a video game with a low frame rate; it looks like film with a low frame rate, because of the blurring of motion over a single frame.
0:03 The compositions are certainly gorgeous, though.
0:04 I run into a physical puzzle: a crate on wheels below a wooden platform. I guess what button it takes to grab the crate, and pull it out to where I can jump on it. Kudos to the developers for having the restraint to not explain to me that “A” means jump.
0:04 I hop into a pond to the left to see what's over there. I drown instantly. Limbo just had to be a video game, didn't it?
0:05 After walking through a dark tunnel, I drop down into a sailboat. The force of my landing sends it floating over to the right. What great visual shorthand! Already I'm stoked to find out what's over there in the new world. Let's do this.
0:05 The boat makes landfall. After a short run of beach, there's a ledge too high to jump to.
0:06 I pull the boat over to the ledge and use it as a stepping stone. A very natural physical puzzle, very casual.
0:06 After climbing something unidentifiable, I leap to a rope. Where do I go from the rope? I feel like I should be able to climb from the rope to the roof beam the rope is tied to. Time to try pressing every button again!
0:07 No new actions discovered except that I can swing the rope, and that doesn't help because there's nowhere to swing to except where I came from. (Which I tried anyway; nothing interesting happened.)
0:07 Tried jumping backwards off the rope onto the roof. That worked. Unnatural non-puzzle solved.
0:08 As I was appreciating the interplay of light and shadow, a bear trap suddenly decapitated me. That's not how bear traps work!
0:08 After making my way past the bear trap -- another reasonably natural physical puzzle -- I run across a hanged body swarming with flies. I'm not sure the sudden mood shift is working as intended, guys.
0:09 What a grisly puzzle solution. I... think I approve.
0:10 Crushed by a rock rolling down a log. Again, the solution is very simple and physical: trigger the rolling rock, and run back -- actually, wait, no, this puzzle sucks. It requires dying to discover what you need to do. And is there anything more video gamey and artificial than a hazard only activating as soon as it comes on screen?
0:10 More atmospheric running through the forest. I refuse to stoop to the level of watching the forest floor for more bear traps, not while there's all this gorgeous scenery in the background.
0:11 Drowned in a lake trying to figure out what to do with this wooden crate.
0:11 Crushed by wooden crate against lake bed trying to figure out what to do with this wooden crate.
0:12 Drowned in about two feet of water, because I was leaning forward, holding the crate, rather than standing straight up. I'm picturing this kid bragging like Guybrush Threepwood: “I can hold my breath for three seconds!”
0:12 Finally got the crate floating in the lake and tried to stand on it; slipped off and drowned. Maybe it's time to look more carefully for other stuff to interact with.
0:13 Just realized that X and Y do the same thing as A and B. So most likely, the triggers and bumpers do nothing and the whole interface is just run, jump, grab.
0:13 Pulled crate over to hanging liana; jumped from crate to liana. The lake was (probably) a red herring.
0:14 Oh, so it is possible to fall to your death. I assumed that after surviving the fall from the rope to the beach, you could safely fall any distance.
0:15 Okay, so the lake isn't a red herring, just an obstacle. The crate's position near the lake was the red herring.
0:16 There's a bear trap perched precariously atop a high tree branch. Bears do sometimes climb trees, right?
0:16 Jesus Christ that is an enormous fucking spider. Out here in real life, I barely restrain the urge to rapidly back away from the screen. Would I play this game for more than 16 minutes? I... maybe. Yeah. Let's give it a shot.
0:17 O untimely death by spider limb. At least they aren't showing me its eyes or mandibles. It's also probably too big to fit in my ear.
0:17 Let's see if that bear trap has something to do with not getting killed by this spider.
0:18 Well. I can get the spider to stab at me and hit the ground, e.g. in a place I could put the trap, but the trap itself is well out of reach.
0:18 Walking back to the lake, I see that the log I crossed on has drifted back to the other side. So the trick to reaching the bear trap is probably not to abuse physics to get the crate over here as a stepping stone.
0:19 I don't think I've ever seen such a lackadaisical house-sized spider.
0:20 Tried waiting for it to stab me, then jumping to grab onto the leg. No dice; didn't even collide with it.
0:20 Um. Now the bear trap is on the ground. Is that a bug? Was it a bug that it wasn't on the ground before?
0:21 Got 'im! He's leaking icky fluid. “Blasphemous ichor,” as the kids say thesedays.
0:22 Uh. He's exactly as lackadaisical as before. Let's see if the same trick works again. I hope this isn't one of those bosses that takes three hits to kill, because that's going to be tedious.
0:22 I guess it wasn't that tedious.
0:23 So, the spider left. I'm moving on. Seems weird that it didn't like, give chase or something, or at least look more hurried when escaping. Seems out-of-character, for a spider.
0:23 The spider starts creeping up behind me. I think I just realized what this wispy stuff covering the tunnel is, and why I slowed down and now can no longer move.
0:24 Well. He didn't kill me, he wrapped me up and saved me for later. I forgot that spiders do that.
0:24 I worked myself loose from the webbing and now I'm hopping through the forest, still wrapped in my silk cocoon. I bet my grab button doesn't work any more, which should make solving puzzles more interesting.
0:25 Look, there's a big round boulder in my path. I wonder what happens if I get it rolling.
0:26 What happens: it solves a puzzle.
0:26 I guess I was supposed to stay on top of that enormous rolling boulder that I didn't realize was rolling at the time, rather than jump down onto the spikes it was rolling past.
0:27 Here comes the spider a-creepin'. I'm in a cocoon, frantically leaping backwards to propel the enormous underfoot boulder forwards, being chased by the gigantic spider who by any reasonable standard already earned the right to have me for lunch.
0:27 The boulder reaches the end of the bed of spikes and just as a spiky limb reaches out for me, I hop off and tumble down a slope, somehow losing my cocoon. I do still have a wispy bit of silk sticking to me, like when you walk out of the bathroom with a little piece of toilet paper stuck to your hair. Shoe. The hair thing never happened. I mean, that wouldn't even make sense, right?
0:28 I'm pretty sure that human figure was alive before I caved in the floor he was standing on. His own fault for tying the noose around his neck, though.
0:28 A little life lesson for you: some ropes are safe, but ther ropes, when you jump to them, release bear traps from the ceiling that fall and snap your head off on the way down.
0:29 “Puzzles” that kill you for doing the natural thing seem to be this game's stock-in-trade. This is weak design. Yes, there was another falling-bear-trap trap immediately after the last one I mentioned.
0:30 Was that a bass note? I think it had a frequency! Does this game have a soundtrack after all?
0:30 This other house-sized spider is mechanical. There's a dude operating the leg with a lever, who bolts when he sees me. Yeah, you better run!
0:31 Yes, I can operate the lever with the grab button. Just checkin'.
0:31 I'm pretty sure I just got killed by a rolling, flaming tire.
0:32 Couple dudes with spears run away. Why are they afraid of me? Besides me dodging around their flaming tire, I mean.
0:33 I climb some ladders and stumble into their town. There's a dude hanging from a noose out front, which would be way scarier if this game wasn't practically Noose-Hanger 4.
0:34 It occurs to me that this “die, die again” puzzle design was also how Another World worked. Limbo reminds me Another World quite a bit.
0:34 There's a tire swing in the background of this death trap fortress. Adorable!
0:35 Here comes the spider again. I assumed that being across a body of water would save me, but of course a house-sized spider isn't going to be afraid of a little surface tension.
0:36 Oh, that was a neat little lever-and-fulcrum puzzle. Nice interaction between objects.
0:37 It's not so neat when I'm forced to repeat it. That checkpoint put me back a little far.
0:37 There goes another spider leg. He's gonna be hopping along on one like a pogo stick before long.
0:38 Another mood-setting run through the forest. It's interesting to me that this game has no level breaks and aside from these runs, and almost no transition between set pieces. The pacing is super weird. Disparate events butt right up against one another.
0:38 Two guys up ahead, on the other side of a spiky pit. They run off. Here comes the goddamn giant spider behind me again. Oh man, he already has only the one leg.
0:39 I dodge a stab. This time I can jump onto his leg. It's solid when the puzzle calls for it. I run to the other side of him, where his stabby leg can't reach, and start trying to push him around. Doesn't really have much give to him, forward or back.
0:40 There's not much else to interact with. Impassable slope on the immediate left, spiked pit on the immediate right.
0:41 On the plus side, he's given up trying to stab at me.
0:42 It'd suck if I were stuck on this puzzle for the next 18 minutes.
0:42 Okay, I yanked on his leg, and it tore loose. Gross. It's still twitching.
0:43 I roll his body into the spiked pit and walk on it to cross. I'm lucky he's an abstract silhouette and doesn't have any mandibles, or he could've totally bitten my head off while I rolled him.
0:43 There are two hanging crates here, one with a human corpse in it, the other with a raven pecking at it. Why not peck at the tasty corpse instead? These ravens are crazy.
0:44 I walk through a neck-deep pond, deep enough to give pause, but as it turns out just barely too shallow to drown in. It's like the game is fucking with my head.
0:44 I jump onto a floating corpse in the middle of a much deeper lake. Another bass note. A dazed-looking guy with a glowing thing sticking out of his head stumbles into the water and apparently dies. Why do corpses float in water, while I sink? I use his body to cross the lake.
0:45 Stepping past worm-lookin' things as I walk through a cave. Shades of Another World again, except they're not killing me this time.
0:46 The dudes blow-gunned me! Don't tell me I have to solve a platformer physics problem to convince them not to.
0:48 No need to worry about the blowgun puzzle yet; trying to get back to it, I keep getting killed repeatedly by the traps I blew past easily the first time.
0:50 The solution was, of course, to stay out of the 8-foot range of the blowguns.
0:51 Hm. Here I apparently have to pull the rope past spinning saw blades, presumably while not touching the sawblades myself.
0:52 You might notice I haven't gone into puzzle solving detail much; part of this is not wanting to spoil them, and part of it is that the puzzles are very physical and visual, not translating well to text.
0:52 Walkin' past glowing mushrooms.
0:53 Here we go, that's the Another World style I know: walking past a glowing worm thing, it drops onto my head and starts burrowing in. I lose control and start walking forward, presumably under the worm's direction.
0:53 The game's not fading out, which means I'm not dead yet. I still have to play the game even though I don't have control? Okay, it looks like I can control when I jump.
0:54 After a while, the glow worm goes away. Timed? Then, without even having the decency to provide a segue, the game transitions immediately from “parasite mind control worm” theme to “clockwork fortress” theme.
0:54 Inside the clockwork fortress there's a small hopping creature that runs away from me. One thing I'm appreciating about this game is that I genuinely can't tell whether something like that is a gameplay element or pure atmosphere.
0:55 Looks like he's probably gameplay; I'm luring him out of hiding with glowing fungus.
0:55 Yep, lured him into a gigantic gear, now he's turning it like a hamster wheel. I guess he's a silhouette hamster.
0:56 After looking around a bit more, I realize I have to pull a nearby lever to activate the wheel. Doing this... makes it rain. It is now raining, because of a lever I pulled.
0:58 I guess that's a pool of oil? It looks just like the ground, but you can drown in it like water.
1:00 Pulled an obvious lever; room starts filling with water; rush to ladder; the water fills higher than the ladder goes. Hups.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yeah, I'm loving the look and the wordlessness, and basically liking the gameplay.

Thinking further on it, there's a grand tradition of wordless, exploratory games starring young children, set in atmospheric environs, especially forests. This probably started with Shigeru Miyamoto's “The Legend of Zelda,” inspired by boyhood exploration of forests around his home. Others that come to mind are A Boy and His Blob, Ico and Knytt Stories. All favorites of mine.

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