The black and white screen fades in through its grainy lens to a forest. Suddenly, eyes appear, as the boy laying on the ground awakens. His black figure is silhouetted like everything else in the foreground. Silently, the nameless boy walks until he finds a rope. He descend the cliff, beginning his journey through the eerie and deadly forest.
Limbo was released in July 2010 exclusively on the Xbox Live Arcade for their Summer of Arcade event before eventually being released on other platforms. You play as this nameless boy as the traverses this deadly forest and eventual dilapidated city searching for his sister. The game is silent, with not text beyond the title screen, leaving the entire experience open for interpretation.
The gameplay is simple 2-D sidescrolling platforming, a la Mario, though less cartoony. The platforming (jumping) sections are simplistic, with many of the jumps requiring little skill to navigate. The crux of the gameplay is puzzle solving, with every puzzle failing in a ‘trail and death’ model, dubbed so by the developers. Thankfully, the checkpoints are very liberal, taking away much of the frustration of repeating long sections. Failure to complete many of the puzzles often results in a gruesome death. Though simplistic, the game is very violent.
This dead and hollow world invokes haunting images beyond just the death of the main character. The background often has dead bodies hung from trees, or suspended in cages while crows feast on them. Randomly other trapped children in this negative space will attack, trying to impede your progress, only to be out of reach as they run off ahead. At one point you must use dead bodies floating in the water to progress.
The developers have offered no explanation for the story, leaving it entirely up to the individual to decide. Taking a minimalistic approach has positives and negatives. As the player continues through the game, the forest is eventually left behind opening up to a broken city. The shift in scenery brought with it a noted changed in gameplay and delivery, focusing only on progression and puzzle solving. Little detail is offered saved for a broken electrified ‘HOTEL’ sign.
Suddenly the game ends as the boy is thrown through a pain of glass, landing back in the forest. Is he at the beginning again? Is he still in Limbo? Did he just cross through to heaven, or hell? And who was the girl he found before the game abruptly ended? His sister? Girlfriend? There are many questions I still had by the end. While it’s nice to have answers, they’re not always needed. I didn’t feel like I wasted my time ushering this boy through this part of his afterlife. I was given all the pieces of someones toy box and general direction for them. The game is easily under 4 hours on a first play through, realistically closer to 2. And easy afternoon game to enjoy.
There are many theories as to what the ending meant. I think the boy chose to enter this negative to space to rescue the girl, either to take her away or stay with her.