Review: Limbo (Switch)

What’s that saying about fine wines and age?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 08/16/2018 14:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Exquisite game design, from the presentation, to the mechanics, to the pacing, and everything in between; narrative is obtuse but it perfectly suits the game; fun, enchanting, and still as relevant today as it was in 2010
Poison Mushroom for...
Some of the sense of urgency dissipates after the giant spider departs; some may lament the brevity of the game

By the time you read this, Limbo will have been around for eight years. What started on Xbox 360 has spread to countless other platforms and garnered numerous industry awards, mass praise, and a devout following along the way. Odds are that many of you reading this have played Limbo in some form or another on at least one other platform already. Which begs the question, then, of whether or not this Switch iteration of the game is worthy of your time.

For starters, a lot of diehard Nintendo fans will be playing Limbo for the very first time on Switch. The game hasn’t graced any other Nintendo console before this, so for those who don’t stray beyond the Kyoto-based company’s ecosystem, Limbo will be a fresh (and irresistible) experience. For those who have tackled Limbo before, it’s going to be a trickier sell. There’s no new content to be found in Limbo on Switch. It’s the same 15 chapters as before with the same puzzles and hidden goodies to find.

If it’s been a stretch since the last time you’ve played Limbo, I’d say it’s worthy of a double-dip. I’d played the game before, but having not touched it in a few years, I was sucked right in and beat it in a single night. Plus, outside of the few fans who own the PlayStation Vita version of Limbo, this is only the second time it has been made available on a dedicated portable gaming platform (yes, that’s a subtle jab at iOS!), so I’d say a second dip is warranted, overall. Such is the greatness of Limbo.

Like I said above, however, newbies are going to be thrilled to play Limbo for the first time. If the screen grabs and trailers aren’t enough to make it clear, Limbo isn’t like many other platformers. The folks at Playdead succeeded in crafting one of the richest, most eerie atmospheres ever realized in a video game. Which is especially impressive given Limbo’s minimalist aesthetic. Black, white, and gray are the dominant hues, coalescing into both organic and mechanical shapes to create the game’s world, enemies, puzzles, and traps.

There’s a limited but easy to understand lexicon in play here to make navigating Limbo’s hazards easy to grasp. “Spiky things kill” being the number one and most frequently seen signifier of impending death. From spears to arrows to whirling saw blades, there are a ton of threats to the main character’s life and they all must be tackled in different ways to ensure survival. Yet, as myriad as the means of death may be, the young boy at the center of all this danger doesn’t have a whole lot to defend himself with. Which is part of the draw of Limbo.

I said this is a platformer, which it is, but it’s very much a puzzle game, as well. The star of Limbo is a young boy, whose mission is to find out the fate of his sister by entering into limbo. There’s a mystery at the heart of this game that fuels the player’s exploration. Where is he, really? Is he dead? Is his sister dead? The narrative of Limbo refuses to enlighten, instead leaving the player to speculate as to the specific details of what’s unfurling before him. Admittedly, that sort of storytelling can drive some people nuts, but Limbo does an exceptional job of giving just enough information that the lack of a definitive “answer” as to what’s happening isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the speculation it fuels. Check out this Kotaku piece to see some of the more fascinating theories people have come up with.

While the storyline is itself something of a “puzzle,” the true head-scratchers come from Limbo’s actual gameplay. Jumping to avoid hazards is the oldest trick in the platforming book, but Limbo plays some devious games with perception and expectations to make those leaps more deadly and interesting than ever. The boy can also grab onto ropes and drag and push obstacles, all with a keen use of physics woven into the proceedings to make logic a major factor when sussing out solutions. For instance, at one point late in the game the boy comes across an electrified track that he has to ride a mine cart across. The cart has to be pushed a certain distance in order for the boy to be able to time a run and jump to safety without being fried. It’s just one of many puzzles that make players think to get from one point to the next, and there are few greater feelings in video games than using brainpower to succeed.

I mentioned that Limbo’s atmosphere is a big part of the experience because without it, I don’t know if the game would be quite so successful. From the outset, there’s a deliberate effort made to foster a sense of unease in the player. Nothing is clearly defined in this game; everything is in silhouette, every detail is obscured. Creeping forward, there’s no way of knowing or anticipating what will come next. The actual location called “limbo” comes from Christianity and is described as a place where neither the fully wicked nor good reside. It’s a sort of purgatory, in a sense, and the game brilliantly sells the idea that it’s taking place somewhere “in between” worlds. I’d also like to point out that the pacing here is expertly handled. In particular, the incorporation of the large spider that haunts the boy at the beginning of the game. Its presence at the start makes it brutally clear to the player that if they want to get to the end, they need to be wary of every single thing in their path.

In the eight years since Limbo launched, there have been multiple other small game developers that have latched onto the platforming genre, delivering everything from intense, hectic titles like The End is Nigh to more sedate, thoughtful ones like Ori and the Blind Forest. Yet, for all the time that has passed, Limbo remains a benchmark of the genre that few other games have come within sniffing distance of. It’s nearly unparalleled in terms of presentation and design, and this latest port to Switch has maintained everything about the game that makes it special. While some might lament the lack of any additional content, I wholeheartedly beg to differ. Limbo is a game that doesn’t need a single bit added, removed, or rearranged. It’s a classic in every sense and deserves to be played by as many people as possible.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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