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Community Article: Indie Insights - Limbo

Written by John Edwards

In this game, you play as a rowdy party goer who has to see how long they can set a bar and still walk under it. Gain XP to level up and unlock new Hawaiian shirts and improve your pool float collection. The vivid colours really… wait… not that kind of limbo?

The limbo in Limbo is the much less fun purgatory flavour. I would say it's probably easier on your knees and back than party time limbo, but this is a game that will crush, stab and maim you every step of the way. Creators Playdead even referred to the style of gameplay as 'trial and death'.

The story for Limbo is deliberately vague, your character seemingly waking up in the middle of a monochromatic forest. Ostensibly you have entered purgatory to find your sister but don't expect cutscenes or expanded lore explaining why you're trekking through the desolate and troubling world. Just keep moving and try to navigate the plethora of things that want to end you. 

Given that limbo is typically a stage of the afterlife you wouldn't really expect to die over and over, you've already died, right? But it seems every couple of feet there's something in limbo waiting to kill you again, and again, and again. Bear traps, boulders, falling logs, spikes, drowning, all manner of hazards await you. Fortunately, you'll start again not far from whatever malevolent trap made mincemeat of you. The often brutal animations of your untimely demise will encourage you to be a little more careful, or step a little more quickly when picking your way through the disquieting landscape.

Limbo is entirely in black and white, making it a great showcase for the true blacks of the newly released Nintendo Switch OLED Model. It aids the sense of isolation and danger. Limbo is a place between places, it's not somewhere for living, the lack of colour emphasises this, you can practically feel the cold of this dead world seeping out of the screen.

Some entities reside in limbo and arachnophobes may want to approach with caution as a large spider-like creature pursues and skewers you during the early parts of the game. Later you'll see other humanoid characters, but they will often be dead already or openly hostile. You will on occasion use their corpses as platforms to progress. This is not a cheery game.

When Limbo first came out it was a strong contender for any 'are games art?' argument. It has a brilliant aesthetic, a haunting atmosphere and enough symbolism for a PhD thesis. It may be that games that have come after Limbo have converted more people to the idea of games as art, but there is a legacy to be felt here. An early entry in the pantheon of great indie titles and one with moments that will linger in the memory long after you reach the startlingly abrupt ending. Limbo is a bleak and punishing journey but one well worth diving into.