This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Playdead's downloadable Xbox Live Arcade platformer Limbo, which reviews describe as "dark, disturbing, yet eerily beautiful." Limbo currently earns a score of 90 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.
Joystiq's Richard Mitchell gives Limbo5 out of 5 stars. "Limbo has a rare quality to it: regardless of who actually holds the controller, anyone close enough to watch is automatically transfixed," he claims. "Rather than bombarding you with graphical effects or thumping music, Limbo's distinct lack of visual and aural stimuli makes it most striking. Its true impact is achieved through emptiness, silence and simplicity."
"At its core, Limbo is a puzzle platformer," he writes. "The real outstanding feature, and the thing that will stay with me, is the world. It's bleak, desolate, rendered entirely in shades of black and gray. There is no color in limbo. None. There is no real music to speak of, apart from the occasional sting or drone."
The minimalist aesthetic adds weight to the game's dreary content. "Nearly every mistake results in death, often leaving you dismembered or gored," Mitchell explains. "Other characters, human and otherwise, seem to be characterized by death, suffering or savagery, making one thing clear: Something is wrong with this place. It's as good a motivator as I could imagine, begging the player to move forward, to get out."
Mitchell notes that few of the game's puzzles presented any challenge, but feels that this does not detract from the experience as a whole. "The puzzles really serve as a means to an end," he says. "The actual meaning of Limbo, I think, lies in the journey itself. In that sense, it reminds me most of Out of This World or the original Prince of Persia, in that it truly takes you to another place, puts you in another person's shoes. Dark, disturbing, yet eerily beautiful, Limbo is a world that deserves to be explored."
Tom Mc Shea at GameSpot scores Limbo at 9 out of 10. "Limbo dresses the cerebral lure of thoughtful puzzles with a bleak visual design and sparse, moody audio to suck you in as completely as the protagonist child who is mercilessly trapped here," he writes. "This artistic, somber adventure so expertly combines all of its elements that it's nigh impossible to shake free from its grip once it grabs hold of you."
Mc Shea praises the game's lack of dialog and story text. "There is no story pushing you through this quest, no signs to give you hints nor characters to clue you in on an overarching plot," he notes. "Rather, this is a game about survival, where merely making it from one area to the next, surviving one obstacle after another, is what pushes you on."
"You have a small repertoire of moves to help you stay alive in this 2D puzzle/platformer hybrid," Mc Shea continues. "A modest jump allows you to clear small gaps; certain objects can be pushed or pulled; and you can climb up or swing from ropes.
"Your lack of heroic moves does not mean that the puzzles you must overcome are equally limited, though. There's plenty of variety in Limbo's puzzles, and even those that appear similar initially are invariably quite different. The early puzzles are single-step affairs that require you to move a bear trap out of the way or cross a river. But later puzzles are much more complex, forcing you to use objects, flip switches, and perform perfect jumps in order to come out on top."
Mc Shea warns that Limbo's short length is its greatest weakness. "Limbo is laid out in a linear way, with one obstacle placed after another as you dutifully march from left to right," he says. "This single-mindedness makes it easy to lose track of the time and play through the entire adventure in one sitting.
"It should take less than five hours your first time through, and though it's disappointing that the ending comes so abruptly, it is worth revisiting Limbo when you're done. There are collectibles to be found when you stray from the most obvious path, and locating them is every bit as satisfying as solving the game's many puzzles."
1UP.com's Justin Haywald gives Limboa B grade. "Limbo does a great deal with very little," he begins. "Stark black-and white-visuals and a simple two-button control scheme ('action' and 'jump') highlight the power a talented developer can wield by keeping things simple."
"At its heart, Limbo is a puzzle game: you interact with the environment and overcome obstacles while trying to avoid an untimely (and messy) death...but you'll die a lot anyway," Haywald continues. "Learning to find the dangers cleverly concealed in the game's shadows keeps you aware of your simplistic surroundings, and draws focus to the minute details of the landscape."
Haywald feels that players will find little frustration with Limbo's puzzles, thanks to its generous checkpoints. "Limbo presents it's fair share of platforming and precision button pressing as well, but unlike, say, Mega Man, you're never forced to start back at the beginning of a stage," he notes. "Any frustration you might feel at an inopportune death melts away when you respawn right next to where you failed. And when you finally figure out the solution to open the path forward, you feel like you've accomplished something."
"But the further you progress through the game, the less puzzle-like, and the more 'Mega Man' things become," Heywald warns. "The game's opening moments place you in an alien world, with spot-on musical cues and shadowy creatures that compel you forward. But these antagonists disappear after those opening acts with no explanation. This tattered trace of civilization and the chance of meeting someone who could offer some explanation for this bizarre world are replaced by industrial levels full of crates and spinning blades. While that makes for deviously fun puzzles, it also detracts from what Limbo should be able to handle easily: the narrative."
Haywald expresses disappointment in Limbo's abrupt finale. "In Braid -- another indie title with a distinct and memorable style -- the act of reanimation was woven into the story itself," he writes. "By Braid's dramatic conclusion, the world made more sense. But at the end of Limbo, I was more confused than when I began. Limbo presents a deliberately obscure final act that, after all the effort it takes to get there, feels uncharacteristically lazy.
"The game's haunting world promises a deeper meaning, a richer narrative, than it delivers," Haywald concludes. "It isn't missing dialogue or some pretentious wall of text at the end -- Limbo proves in its opening moments that it can tell volumes without using any words at all. But the disparate pieces of this otherwise intricately crafted puzzle never form a cohesive whole.
"Still, while it stumbles to pull everything together, Limbo is short and certainly worth experiencing, if for nothing else, than to see this beautiful, two-tone world yourself."