Demo Sunday – Limbo

OK, so I may be a few months behind the cool-kids with this weeks’ game demo, but even after it has won 100,000$, I think more people need to know how cool Limbo is.

And the best part is, you can play the demo, right now, for freeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

First a little background: Limbo is what is called an “indie game.”  No don’t go and get your hipster pannies in a bundle just yet… this game was indeed independently developed, with little to no budget, by about 20 or so people.  However, it’s not necessarily “underground” because it was picked up by a major publisher (Microsoft Game Studios) pretty much immediately.  In the gaming world, this is a rare and beautiful thing, and is almost always life-changing to the small group of developers who made the game.

Long story short: Limbo has been a major success, both critically and financially. Hooray for indie games!

Now that that’s over with, onto the demo itself.  The first thing you’ll notice about Limbo is it’s striking minimalism.

The game utilizes no Heads-up-display (HUD) such as life bars or glowing enemies, and instead opts for an art style that purposefully blurs and obfuscates the world around you, showing only silhouettes of your character, enemies, and surroundings. This is not merely a choice of art-style, this is a storytelling element, as the young boy whose fate you are deciding is just as confused and unfamiliar as you are.  This design philosophy permeates the gameplay, as there are also very minimal tutorials or game hints.  The game presents itself in a manner that encourages you, the player, to be curious and figure out the controls for yourself.  This not only helps you to feel immersed in the gameplay, but also starts that oh-so-necessary positive feedback loop that tells you, “Hey, I figured that out.  I must be pretty smart!”

Contrary to the minimalist visuals and gameplay, the sound design is incredibly detailed and, to borrow a phrase from What Are We Drinking, “full-bodied.” The world in which you find yourself struggling to survive is made even more unfamiliar with sounds of brisk winds, rustling leaves, creaking trees… and disembodied voices.  These effects serve to make the world feel more tangible, more real, and therefore more threatening.  You’re given the sense that, if were a only a dream, the sounds wouldn’t be this disturbing…

Throughout the game, you’ll almost certainly witness some pretty gruesome deaths for this poor little boy.  The world of Limbo is filled disproportionately with circular saw blades, giant spiders, and deep chasms.  The challenge of surviving these obstacles lies more in finesse than reflexes, and makes for an experience that’s both rewarding in success, and frightening in failure.

The demo contains a good 10-15 minutes of this experience, and is worth your time even if you aren’t interested in purchasing the game.  It’s the kind of game that you can appreciate just knowing that it exists, in the same way that I appreciate the Statue of Liberty without actually walking inside it.  However if you are interested, Limbo is available on the Xbox Live Arcade for 15$ (or 1200 Microsoft Points…stupid points system).  15 buckeroos is a little hefty for a downloadable title, especially one with only about 3 to 6 hours of playtime, and almost no replay value.  But again, Limbo is an art piece, so I think it’s price reflects that. In my opinion, it is worth 15$,even if only for one short experience.

P.S. Limbo isn’t the only great indie game out there.  Steam has tons of indie games for cheap on the PC, and the Xbox Live Marketplace does a great job of showcasing indie developers as well.  Some others that I would highly recommend are Braid, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Machinarium, VVVVVVV, and Super Meat Boy.  Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments!

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