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Limbo: A Nasty Game 360 XBLA Review

08/10/2011 Family Reluctant Gamer Review
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Limbo: A Nasty Game 360 XBLA

Limbo: A Nasty Game

360 XBLA



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Other GamePeople columnists have reviewed this from their perspective - huh?:
Story Gamer (360)
Soulful Gamer (360)
Returning Gamer (360)
Haiku Gamer (360)
Scripted Gamer (360)
Scared Gamer (360)
Dressup Gamer (360)
Mousey Gamer (360)
Podcast (360)
Bike Gamer (360)
Tired Gamer (360)

I've heard a lot about Limbo recently, but visiting a friend for an evening of gaming away from the familiar DS I got my first proper look at what all the excitement is about.

If you want to know all the ins and outs you can read other reviews. They'll tell you about the graphics, styling and gameplay and why it's groundbreaking and unlike other games. To be honest I couldn't tell you a lot about that anyway as I've not played anything else on the 360. But what I can do is explain why I'm still affected by what I saw and try to work out just what I have allowed myself to be put through. It was quite an experience, and one that has left me confused.

There are basically three categories of games in my rather blinkered and inexperienced view:
Fun - games that make me happy;
Tedious - games that bore me, but each to their own, and
Nasty - not necessarily proof of delinquency in those that play them, but certainly raising some fairly profound questions.

I've seen a few of each of these over the last few months. I have learnt to play Fun games with conviction and only the tiniest hint of guilt. I still struggle with Tedious, having a proven tendency to play longer than I should on games I don't really like. It goes against the grain to give up half way through, but I'm learning.

Nasty is easy. I have no trouble at all in simply avoiding them. My head already contains enough unpleasantness without cramming in extras for entertainment. But I'm not going to moralise -- my personal view is that I just don't like watching children dying, or getting mutilated or having their heads chopped off. Even if it's not real.

Limbo doesn't look real, and nor is it supposed to. My character is a little boy who is seen only as a silhouette with piercing white eyes, and who pants as he runs. He has to run. He's in an eerie and dark world, full of shadows and uncertainty and nasty surprises. As I start to guide my little boy through the woods I know that danger is everywhere.

Each time I die I have to look at my boy -- decapitated, impaled, drowned.

There is no fanfare to start the game, no upbeat opening credits and no context, just a brooding sense of foreboding. This is frighteningly effective. I am pretty cautious from the word go and hold my breath as I negotiate the first few obstacles. I successfully avoid drowning. So far so good.

I spot the first man trap (nice!) and manage to get past. But soon enough my luck runs out and I make my first mistake. Another man trap lurking in the shadows and in a split second my little boy is chopped in half with a grim finality and a spurt of blood. The end.

Well not quite the end, because I get to start again where I left off. But I'm in shock. I move along a bit further, and now it's razor sharp spikes on trees, and vicious giant spiders. The wood is not as deserted as I thought. Small people run off as I approach, but not before they've set another trap for me, or launched a flaming barrel down the hill in my direction. So I die again. And again.

Each time I die I have to look at my boy -- decapitated, impaled, drowned.

20 minutes in and I've really had enough. I hand the controller to my friend and watch him play. Freed from the responsibility of another's life I watch with a shade less discomfort and reflect on what I'm seeing.

Is this a work of art? It is beautiful in its way, but it has left me emotionally... what? I feel anxious. Disturbed even. And yet the game seems so simple, so un-gory. This is not a Nasty game, is it?

I just didn't want to play any more.

I think I've been suckered by the arty visuals and the sparse soundtrack and lack of guns, and this is exactly the sort of game that I need to avoid. Is it feeding off innate fears in me? Or is it fuelling them?

Maybe I just need to toughen up a bit, but to be honest I don't want to. I had a genuine sense of shock when my little boy died for the first time. And I didn't much like it the second time. After a few more I just didn't want to play any more. Is that OK?

Written by Chris Kendall

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Chris Kendall writes the Reluctant Gamer column.

"I can't deny it. I really don't want to get too involved. It's not that I don't like playing games, it's just I have a very hard-to-shake underlying suspicion that videogames are a waste of time. And it does take a lot of time, doesn't it?"

Here are the games I've been playing recently:

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