Though recently “Out-Classed” by Inside, Limbo remains a very intense puzzle-platformer. Even if it only took me about 3 hours to complete (with a little help), those three hours are chock full of great game design and memorable moments. Limbo has an interesting story, an eye-catching art style, and a few eerie sounds. But where Limbo specializes in is its puzzles. They progressively get harder, while also getting more creative. However, the puzzles are so well designed not because they are innovative, but by how they are complemented by the visuals, sounds, and story. It all feels well connected and gives a purpose to every little thing. Sure, the game might not be the best in every aspect, but the puzzle design of Limbo is unmatched.
The world of Limbo is black and white, literally. From the world itself to the characters and objects, there is no color. So you may think, “Oh they just cheaped out on the art”. Well, not exactly. Maybe the people at Playdead didn’t want to spend time coloring the world, but to me, it seems like it’s by design. Just take a look at this blog post. Black text on a white background. The reason why you see articles formatted as such is because of color contrast. It is very easy to tell black from white, which helps a lot in Limbo’s puzzles. When you reach another puzzle area in Limbo, you have to first look around for a way to complete the challenge. Limbo’s take on the puzzle genre is not so much to make it a challenge to find the tools used to complete the puzzle, but to figure out how to use them in tandem to complete it. It is very clear as to what objects are intractable in Limbo because they contrast against the normal environment. All you need to do is figure out how to time or order actions to finish the puzzle. It can be very annoying trying to solve a puzzle when you don’t have all the tools necessary. It’s like trying to take a test without a pencil. To avoid that risk, the devs make it very clear what is used to solve the puzzle, and lets you figure out how. In that way, it really is black and white.
The story in Limbo although short does serve a purpose in the design of the puzzles. One of the game’s theories that I believe in is that the world you are in is in fact Limbo, the region at the edge of the underworld. This opens up the possibilities for what the world can look like, and what the story can be. The puzzles in Limbo are strange. They range from hotel signs that electrocute you, to giant industrial zones with gears and magnets, to deadly spiders capable of killing with a single strike. It’s more obvious playing the game, but the world seems very disconnected from each area. Although not favorable, that’s okay because it is an imaginary world. You can believe that it makes sense to dodge killer saw blades in a massive rotating room because the world is unknown. If the game was set in America, it would be very confusing to see mythical creatures the size of buildings or a machine that changes the direction of gravity. By being set in a mythical world, and the story being somewhat vague, it allows for a slew of innovative crazy puzzles.
In a puzzle game, it makes sense for the visuals and the story to be important, but it’s not common that the sounds serve a large purpose. Yes, some puzzles see you listening to sound patterns or music to solve them, but Limbo has a different take on sound. The music in Limbo is not very prominent, setting a focus on the actual sound effects of the world. These sounds include falling objects, water, and machines. Though they might seem present to be more realistic, a lot of the sounds are actually very useful when solving the puzzles. For example, when you reach a metal platform making spark noises. It is common knowledge that it is an electrified object, likely to kill you if you touch it. The puzzle is obviously to get over the platform. Next, you pull a lever and hear water rushing in the distance. You are safe to assume that the lever is a sort of valve that controls water flow, and the puzzle must pertain to that. The sounds are all giving you clues about how to solve the puzzle. Whether it is to notify you that an object has fallen, or an area is dangerous, the sounds have been designed to help you solve the puzzles.
Limbo‘s best feature is its puzzles. The visuals, story, and sounds are okay, but nothing in comparison. To play to their strengths, the developers designed their other gameplay elements around the puzzles. Limbo has done an excellent job not only designing fun puzzles but also creating an innovative way to incorporate them.
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