“Well he’s had his ups, he’s had his downs, he’s had his smiles, he’s had his frowns…”

Sunday, May 1, 2016 at 11:23 am Comments Off on “Well he’s had his ups, he’s had his downs, he’s had his smiles, he’s had his frowns…”

ONM Remembered’s up and running and will run on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Updates will come when I’ve got something to update with! I usually post something about potentially upcoming whatnots on Twitter, which is currently more Bomberman guff, animated Bomberman guff, old anime flicks and usually a botched joke I’ll delete in ten minutes because that stuff’s easier to live with when it’s on a website nobody looks at.

… in the meantime, who wants to read a dozen paragraphs about Limbo?

Ah, this game. I posted a big immature rant about it back in 2010 basically griping on end about the ugly art style and making awful contributions to the “are video games art” argument, including some daft comment about “they made a game with allegories. That’s just sad.” Looking back, yikes, I forgot how bloody judgmental I was back then! Whether or not it’s better than my current stance where I usually end reviews saying “it’s got merit of some sort, man!” is up to you. Leave a comment!
Anyway, for whatever reason I suddenly felt the urge to try the game properly and give it a fair shake, so I traded someone on Steam a copy of Undertale for it. One of us was gonna have fun, and it wasn’t gonna be me!

You’re some kid who wakes up in a forest and starts walking right, and you solve puzzles to help yourself progress. Brain twisters like you’re too stumpy to grab this ledge, so you push a box over there. You instantly drown in neck-high water so you find a way to create a platform across, or alter the environment in some way, or whatever the heck. You move, you jump, you grab things, and that’s your lot.
I’m probably not qualified to make the comparison since I haven’t even played the games (I’ve watched playthroughs, though!), but Limbo felt like a modern extension of Eric Chahi’s works, Another World and Heart of Darkness and games of that nature. Games where the player has a very limited toolset, and your progress hinges on knowing the environment and how to interact with it with what limited faculties you’ve got, often with a lot of trial and error. It’s no longer built on flip-screens, instead presenting a seamless, ongoing world with no loading screens; without a weapon, you have to figure out what you can manipulate just by grabbing, pushing or jumping on things.

In that regard it’s quite interesting! I’m always a sucker for seeing old game design receive a bit of modern ingenuity, and though puzzle-platformers are no new concept (especially when we got swamped in 2D platformers due to the indie boom), I admit making the internal comparison to Another World helped me appreciate what Limbo was going for. There’s still no comparison, though, partly because of the visuals.
The big bloody point of the game! The visuals… have their moments. There’s a few scenes where you see a vague backdrop behind the mist and it’s very ambient and moody looking, and I think, yeah, that actually looks kinda cool! And then there’s lots of scenes where nothing’s going on, just a black foreground and grey background and you think eyeeuugh. Someone call a decorator.

For being its claim to fame, the theme is what sinks so much of the game for me. You think of Eric Chahi’s work and you come away with, what a world! A strange and dangerous alien landscape to be stranded in, the player character totally out of their depth, and all you can do is survive and pray for the best.
Limbo is kind of like that: you wake up in a forest as some kid and start going right. There’s a spider out to kill you at first, but then you pull its legs off. There’s a group of natives out to kill you, but then they fall into spikes. There’s this crying girl you see a couple of times that’s seen as an ‘objective’… and that’s it. You just go and go and go. There’s no real impetus to going, it’s just… well, left ain’t an option no more.

In Another World, you’re almost always on the run. From the moment the game starts you’ve got a four-legged beast looking to claw you a new one; by the time you’ve evaded it, you’ve angered an entire race of club-fisted aliens. Heart of Darkness doesn’t evoke the feeling of being chased so much, but enemies are constantly flooding into the screen, looking for their chance to strike.
Limbo peaks early with a spider that preys on you in the first area, first blocking your way and then chasing you through confined tunnels and across a lake. It uses the aesthetic to its advantage, presenting this spooky, ominous threat that can barely be seen amidst the environment and skewers you in an instant. Then it falls down a mountain and breaks its legs and that’s the last of it. It tries to pick up the “omnipresent threat that’s always one step ahead” ball with the natives in the following area, but it doesn’t even compare and the game drops that thread entirely afterwards. It arguably clashes with the slower-paced puzzle-solving of the game, but it held my attention more than jumping over neon signs or whatever.

Playing as a little kid character… well, on one hand it’s a bit distasteful playing the game and seeing this little tyke getting slaughtered: stepping on a bear trap and having their head pop off, getting ground into pieces by a giant circular saw, or just getting conked on the head by a box and keeling over dead. I imagine at some point it was meant to be unsettling, but it just gets farcical.
The second area is littered in the bodies of other children who’ve been captured and killed by the natives, corpses hanging from nooses or floating in the river as platforms. You drag one of the bodies to trigger a trap that’d otherwise squash you. It’s looking to be dark and grim and edgy, but I couldn’t help but cackle at most of it, it’s just so hard to take seriously! It’s the ultimate in edgy secondary school student, wannabe-Tim Burton, “you don’t understand me, dad” attitude. I earnestly can’t think about the aesthetic without telling it to fuck off.

It actually gets quite interesting with its puzzles late in the game, around the industrial and cityscape areas. You’re working with cogs that rotate the entire area, so you need to scale a floor-turned-wall before a ball rolls down and squashes you. There’s these gravity flippers that can either magnetise boxes or flip everything onto the ceiling, forcing you to rearrange the scenery and other gimmickry. It makes for some surprisingly decent gameplay! It’s a pity that stuff’s so close to the game’s end. There’s good mechanics going on, but… a lot of the game’s just plain boring!

For every little good bit, there’s a whole heap of boredom. It’s hard to give a damn, and I think that’s a fault of the “theme”. The theme is boring as piss. I can’t take it seriously, the black and white aesthetic has a few shining moments but grows old fast… and what reason have I to care? What connection have I to any of this?
In Another World, you’re a scientist suddenly warped to an alien world, and there’s only one friendly face amidst a planet full of hostiles. Let’s find a way outta here! In Heart of Darkness, your dog’s been kidnapped by monsters– what more do you need? In Limbo, you wake up and– screw it, I’ve explained it twice already.

Limbo was seen as a real tour-de-force upon its release, being praised to the heavens and declared an incredible “experience”, not to mention it kicked off the indie boom for the Xbox 360. As pretentious as it can get at times, I always respect indie games for just doing their own thing (which I guess some people are up in arms about? how dare they do something original? gaming is exhausting), so kudos to Limbo for getting that train rolling.
That said, man, there’s honestly not much I can praise about the game! Some of the late-game puzzles are neat and a couple of backdrops really sell the mood, but it honestly isn’t my cup of tea. The theme does absolutely nothing for me. I can appreciate the gameplay design, but that doesn’t mean I won’t groan, “ugh, now I have to do this now” whenever a new challenge showed its face. I haven’t heard anyone talk about Limbo in years, so I’ve probably mellowed on it a bit – it’s so refreshing for indie games to have more than Limbo and Braid as their representatives – but I still can’t stand the sight of it.
So nothing’s changed, then.
Glad I didn’t pay money for it, though!

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