Reader Review: Limbo

Reader Review: Limbo

Do you have what it takes to get a review published right here on Kotaku? Jason does, as he gets skewered by a giant spider leg.

Yes, that’s right, we’re now publishing reader reviews here on Kotaku. This is your chance to deliver sensible game purchasing advice to the rest of the Kotaku community.

And thanks to the very kind chaps at Madman Entertainment, purveyor of all kinds of cool, indie and esoteric film, the best reader review we publish each month will win a prize pack containing ten of the latest Madman DVD releases.

This review was submitted by Jason Imms. If you’ve played Limbo, or just want to ask Jason more about it, leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Limbo (XBLA)

Winner of the Visual Arts and Technical Excellence awards at the Independant Games Festival for 2010, Limbo has successfully navigated its way through the dark forest of small budget independant game development and into the neon-bright halls of XBLA’s Summer Winter of Arcade. Limbo is a powerful, foreboding experience which pits a seemingly helpless young boy against a barbarous world, the few inhabitants of which ready to pounce on any and every misstep.


Loneliness: Limbo is oppresively atmospheric. The entire game is rendered in a black/grey/white and from a multi-plane 2D side-scrolling perspective. There is very little text in the game outside of the main menu, even to the exclusion of any sort of objective. The player quicly learns which objects in the environment are dangerous, though mostly thanks to have been brutally ravaged by it previous to being dropped back at one of the game’s frequent checkpoints. The game’s soundtrack is incredibly sparse, the most common sound effect being the depressingly lonely footsteps of the protagonist. Music is all-but absent aside from a subtle score presented as though from the oversized horn of a phonograph.

Tactile: The way that the protagonist moves just feels right. Timing jumps, climbing both up and down ledges, ladders ropes etc are all very intuitive. You will never find yourself dying thanks to unresponsive controls, there is little here for a poor workman to blame. Limbo is not complicated, control-wise. Move with the left analogue stick, A to jump, B to interact. Complexity comes with how the protagonist is able to interact with the world, and perhaps more aptly, how the world interacts with the protagonist.

If At First You Don’t Succeed: The game’s ability to chew you up and spit you out (sometimes, quite literally) would normally result in many players frustrated by the difficulty. In this instance, the game checkpoints very frequently. This means that you will most likely not need to replay a difficult section after being perforated immediately by the one following it.

Moreish: I found this game incredibly difficult to put down. There is a lot to drive you forward here, from the beautifully terrifying scenery and the new and interesting puzzles to the reveal of a new, shocking expository story element. The game is short, but I think that plays to its strengths, much like a certain other short, brilliant albeit cake-obsessed puzzle game.


Creepy: The art and audio direction of the game is surprisingly horrifying. Deaths are visceral. I generally hate this term thanks to its over/misuse, but in this case it is both literal and accurate. Not for the fainthearted.

Very Little: I guess it’s kind of short? Clocks in at around three hours. I struggle to find fault with this game.

Playdead is to be commended for this title, preferably through the purchase and recommendation of the product. Limbo is an absolute must-have for Xbox 360 owners.

Reviewed by: Jason Imms

You can have your Reader Review published on Kotaku. Send your review to us at the usual address. Make sure it’s written in the same format as above and in under 500 words – yes, we’ve upped the word limit. We’ll publish the best ones we get and the best of the month will win a Madman DVD prize pack.


  • Saw this on XBLA today when I was buying Monkey Island 2… I think I might check it out now, good review 🙂

    Damnit, I’ve got to start writing some more reviews…

  • I’ve been waiting for to send me my 1500pts code for 2 days so that I can purchase this…it better come tonight…

  • The visuals are fantastic, but I think a massive negative for me is that the entire game is based on trial-and-error gameplay.

    There’s no approaching a setpiece, observing it and then acting on your theory with success. If there’s something that can kill you, nine times out of ten the developers give you no warning and you’ll learn through failure.

    The first time you come across a mantrap you’ll get caught because it’s not clear that a couple of small spikes on the ground denote a mantrap. After that, you know and can act to avoid them.

    In some puzzles in which the world rotates, pieces of the set come loose and can crush you, but there’s really no indication of this until it happens. If you’re too close to the falling object, there’s actually not enough time to get out of the way, and the only way to avoid it is to know in advance that it will happen, which is impossible on a first playthrough. Which is incredibly cheap from a game design standpoint.

    Overall it feels more like a polished version of something you’d find on Kongregate or Newgrounds, it’s criminally short with very little replay value, and outside of the absolutely stunning aesthetics, really feels like 1200msp (which is what, $20?) is a borderline unjustified price point.

    Don’t get me wrong, because I did enjoy it; however it’s definitely not a game without faults.

    If it were 800msp, I’d recommend it in a heartbeat.

    • Interesting points.
      Regarding the trial-and-error gameplay: I felt that this was conscious design choice, rather than an act of laziness on the part of Playdead. This is evidenced by the all-too-detailed death animations. You’ll note that there is an achievement which requires the player to complete the game losing no more than five lives – a difficult task, as I’m sure you’ll agree. This strikes me as a replay-driving achievement as I doubt _anyone_ could make it through on 5 lives on their first run.

      I guess your opinion of the environments is a personal taste thing. I felt that they were spot on as they suited the visual style perfectly. I won’t give anything away here, but the transition toward the middle of the game was welcome and suitable.

      I would have liked to learn more about the owners of the fake spider leg though…

      • Oh, I think the trial-and-error gameplay structure is entirely intentional; as you say, the death animations are testament to that. I just found it to be a real turn off, as often you weren’t even given a chance the first time.

        Regarding laziness, I’m close to saying that trial-and-error or, perhaps more accurately, forced-failure gameplay is inherently lazy, but I’m sure there are exceptions. I don’t think Limbo is that exception though.

        And I did see that achievement, but let’s be realistic, 20 gamerscore points or whatever is pretty weak as motivation for replay of a game. I’ve replayed Braid several times, as the mechanics and puzzles are just so good, you want to play the game for the simple reason of wanting to play. Here, I’ve no compulsion to revisit Limbo.

        The main issue for me was the price point. While it’s realistically impossible to determine a game’s ‘worth’ (as it’s all going to be based on arbitrary, subjective things like length, replayability, fun-ness, etc,) this really isn’t a $20 game at all.

        I really got the feeling that the designers had a great idea for the graphic style (which they did,) but then they just didn’t put anywhere near as much thought into the Game component.

        I mean I don’t think I’m saying anything incredibly out-there or flame-baiting when I say the game exists almost purely to demonstrate a cool and unique (within the medium) visual aesthetic.

        • I totally see where you’re coming from.
          I think that my reaction to the game stems from the fact that I was absolutely absorbed by the aesthetic, paired with the surprising _lack_ of fatigue brought on by the trial-and-error gameplay. I generally find punishing side-scrolling games to be tiresome as evidenced by my apathy for the Castlevania series, yet Limbo had me enraptured from start to (admittedly abrupt) finish.

          The price point is a tough one. $15USD does work out to just shy of $20AUD. Is $20 ok for what boils down to a 3 hour experience?

          All I can say is that I am _personally_ very happy with my purchase. I will be playing the game again.

  • I finished it already. Was pretty disappointed. It was atmospheric, but that’s about it. The graphics are the only part of it that’s really original.
    The puzzles are the same things you could get from going to Newgrounds and checking the front page’s games. As far as gameplay goes it brings nothing to the table.
    The plot is also an issue. There’s games that do a minimalist approach to a plot and do it well, like Canabalt or Eversion. But they give you something. In Canabalt it’s an instant glimpse into the world that gives you an idea of what’s going on. In Eversion there’s no narrative but the world changes which gives you a sense of plot progression.

    Limbo doesn’t really have that. The environments are very same-y, so you don’t have much feeling of progression at all. There’s only maybe three points in the game that hint towards any sort of plot (the start, about 2/3 through and the end) and there’s nothing to encourage you to progress other than to continue the game.
    The ending was also rather abrupt.

    Really, for a game hyped this much and developed for this long I was expecting a lot more. Instead I got a platformer with a good atmosphere and not much else.

    • Absolutely agree.

      While plot appreciation is a subjective thing, and minimal story/plot can be done really well (Canabalt’s a great example), it really isn’t here.

      It all just feels so superficial.

      Is it a dream? Is it not? It doesn’t matter, as I just didn’t care by the end. The only impetus you have to keep playing is to complete the game for completion’s sake.

  • “You will never find yourself dying thanks to unresponsive controls”

    what game was he playing?

    The controls are sluggish and unresponsive. when moving the character, it feels like you’re a truck slamming the gas pedal down from a dead stop. it takes too long for the character to move in the direction you want him to go and that has caused me a few deaths.

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