Saturday, October 13, 2012

Thoughts On... LIMBO

Hey there.  I have always been fascinated by PlayDead's Xbox Arcade megahit, LIMBO.  When the demo was released, I immediately downloaded it.  When the price of 1200 MS was announced, I was extremely hesitant in purchasing the game.  Many reviews at the time criticized the "short gameplay" and I really like to get a good bang for my buck.  Today, you can get LIMBO, Trials HD, and Splosion Man for about $20.  I managed to score enough free MS points through the Xbox Reward program so I ended up coughing up the 1200 to download the game.  I know... I know...  Playdead's LIMBO was the talk of the town when it came out and I'm just getting around to it now.  Aside from a few screen shots, I made a conscience effort to stay away from ANYTHING that would spoil the game for me.  Thank goodness, I did.  LIMBO is more than just a game, it is art.  If you haven't had a chance to play the game and plan to, step away now.  Go kill a few hours and play LIMBO and then come back to discuss.  SPOILERS BELOW!  Now, after my first playthrough, here are my thoughts on...  LIMBO.

No instructions... no words... no color...  no nothing.  Unless you read the description of the game, you have absolutely no idea what is going on when you first start the game.  The game play is extremely simple:  jump, pull, push, and grasp ledges.  It's all done with 2 buttons.  The monochrome color scheme makes the world of LIMBO just that much more eerie.  Today, we gamers are used to complex games full of HD graphics.  Brilliant colors and vast worlds within the game are what gamers demand from their $60 video games.  LIMBO goes against the grain here.  It's simplicity makes it unique in the sense that the black, white, and grey hues have created a world that stays vividly in your mind well after you've turned the game off.  The foreground and backgrounds blur to form a dreamlike scene.  It's creepy, but beautiful at the same time.  Any game that can get me talking after I've finished it is always a plus for me.

I also wanted to touch base on the characters/enemies in this game.  I found it interesting that aside from a few instances, you don't really "fight" anything.  There are no boss battles and you do not attack enemies, yet you feel accomplished after certain events in the game.  You progress through the game using your smarts to get you out of jams.  The giant spider from in the first part of the game is the best example of it.  You don't attack the spider when it's trying to kill you, but you have to use your surroundings, and a well placed bear trap, to have the spider HURT ITSELF.  The only time where you physically do damage to it is when you tear off it's last leg to use it's body as a platform.
What the...
Death is everywhere in this game.  Your mistakes cause you to die.  AND DIE YOU WILL.  A mistimed jump, stepped on a trap, fell from too high, electrocuted, stabbed, shot, drowned, cut in half, etc.  And the death animation of the boy is so gruesome that you feel sorry for him.  You get emotionally attached to this kid.  You don't know exactly what is going on but those vivid death scenes instill emotions in you and those emotions want you to make sure this child makes it out OK.  Playdead made great use of those emotions.  Because of the fact that you progress through most of puzzles with a trial and error approach, you see the kid die over and over and over.  After awhile, it made me just a little uncomfortable to watch him die.  The thing that works best about him dying is that it compels you to solve the puzzle with as few mistakes as possible.  Once you've been decapitated once, you tend to learn from that mistake and approach the puzzle differently.  Most puzzles can be solved after a few deaths so it's not too time consuming and you can progress through the game without being stuck on a puzzle for too long.  It was a perfect way to learn and think about all of the possibilities before jumping head first into a trap.

Now... I've talked about the gameplay and the visuals.  That's all standard stuff.  But what I really want to get into are my thoughts behind it all.  There are many interesting theories out on the internet that attempt to explain the meaning of the ending and and the overall symbolism of the game.  I'm not going to do that.  What I am going to do is just bring out some interesting points.  Food for thought, in a sense.  I believe that the game's ambiguous ending was made for an open interpretation.  To cause discussion.  And it succeeded in a big way.

Now, I'm no expert on life, death, and the meaning of limbo, but there are a few things in the game that lead me to believe that the boy and his sister are dead.  First thing, the concept of limbo in terms of the afterlife is interesting.  In some Christian beliefs, it's a place where the souls of unbaptized children dwell.  It can be argued that limbo could be your own personal set of trials that you must overcome to prove yourself worthy of heaven.  By failing your trials in limbo, it can become your own personal hell.  Is it a coincidence that the main characters of this game are kids?  Can we be experiencing this child's own personal limbo?  In a way, it makes sense.  Overcoming fears of spiders, bullying, and drowning (water) are all present in this game.  It could be that we are witnessing his trials to get into heaven.
The last scene before the credits roll
So why do I believe they are both dead?  The ending/beginning scene pretty much tells us without really telling us.  Throughout the game, flies hover around corpses.  Whether the corpse is inside of a hanging box or on the floor, flies hover around them.  The game makes sure you notice this early on.  One of the puzzles requires you have a corpse be caught in a bear trap in order to climb up a rope and jump on a ledge.  Naturally, flies are all over the corpse.  The last thing  you see before the credits roll is the boy slowly approaching his sister.  The grass is green, the tree house intact, and light shining down.  The end scene shows a broken down tree house with 2 groups of flies hovering over 2 spots on the ground.  And just to make sure they drive the point home, the only sound you hear are the buzzing of flies.  The game has already imposed the idea that flies are around corpses so why would the ending/beginning be any different?  It's a vivid scene when you really think about it.  .
The scene AFTER the credits roll
Also, I love the expression, "The eyes are the windows to your soul."  Because of the black and white nature of the game, you do not see anything, or more specifically, anyone's eyes.  Only the boy has eyes in this game.  Is it safe to assume that the only one with a soul is the boy?  Not even his sister has visible eyes.  Does that mean her soul is no longer in limbo?  Or does it mean that this is the boy's personal limbo and no one but his soul is being tested?  When it seems that the boy is done with his trials, he ends up in the exact spot where the game started.  In the exact same position.  Here is where I believe it gets interesting...  Why would you end up in the exact spot where you started after going through all that "hell?"  We just witnessed this boy's journey through limbo but was it his first time?  Maybe it was his 100th time?  Maybe, this time around, he satisfied the requirements of getting into a final resting place instead of going through the trials again.  It's interesting to think that the boy could have gone through this "adventure" many times before actually reaching his sister.  During my second play through, the only evidence that I can come up with that he has been through this before can be found when you run from the burning wheel/tire.  The wheel/tire ends up in the water and if you go down that same water pit, you'll see a pile of them sitting at the bottom.

Again, I'm not presenting any theories.  Just ideas and it still has me questioning and wondering what exactly took place in LIMBO.  It's a short game but it has a lasting impression.  If you have not had the chance to check it out, you definitely should.  The game is full of symbolism and you can interpret them any way you want.  Without concrete details, we call just assume what the journey means and what the back story of the brother and sister are.

So what your thoughts on the game?  What did you come away from the game after you played through it?  Satisfied or overrated?  I loved it and I plan on playing through it again to get all the achievements.  So let me hear your thoughts on LIMBO.  Later!


  1. I enjoyed it. I didn't really like the transition in the middle, from trying their hardest to kill you (this is where I had the most fun), into just brutal puzzling, but it was a short and sweet game. I got all trophies but the speed run one, and I've been overwhelmed with so many other games lately that I haven't gotten back to it (though I'm not sure I want to put in the time/effort for it...).

  2. Hey there Kendrick. Yeah, I noticed that the transition was steep and once you start to manipulate gravity, things got extremely complicated. You can make a case that the game went from simpler times to super complicated and then back to simple (forrest). Maybe a rebirth of some sort?

  3. I haven't seen this game in actual, but it looks nice to try. I want to try it! :)

  4. good game. i barely collected any of the eggs on my (so far) one time play thru so not done with achievements or anything.

  5. Hey there Wolkin. I'm in the same boat. I only found 3 eggs and I have no idea where the others could be. I need to play through again and really explore the surroundings to find them.


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