Wikipedia calls it a cinematic platformer, but I think “artisinal platformer” might be a better name for this very small genre. Limbo is obviously a Prince of Persia descendant—the clearest expression of that DNA is the hanging-from a ledge mechanic, in which pushing “A” climbs up and pushing down drops down—but its clear inspiration is Another World. Both are essentially tile-free: you move through a landscape in which the platforms are seamlessly integrated into the scenery. Both are set in wordless, malevolent landscapes. And both are essentially puzzle games in the Dragon’s Lair mold: in moments of crisis, survival depends on executing a precise sequence of movements.
Another World (or Out of This World, for my fellow Americans) was a brilliant, haunting game. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that modern game developers are adding their own twists to its ideas. Limbo, which follows a young boy through a smoking black-and-white landscape of giant spiders, sharp spinning objects, and brain slugs, is an especially worthy tribute. The controls are precise; the graphics and sound perfectly integrated to create a mood of loss and dread. The game works through the implications of its mechanics methodically: gaming elements, like the aforementioned giant spiders, or the seemingly omnipresent bear traps, appear often enough that you build on your knowledge of how they work, but not so often that the puzzles become repetitive. (It’s very much like Braid in that respect.)
Even though the puzzles can be tricky and the timing unforgiving, the game is always fair: you never need to start running before you see the large thing that will kill you if you don’t. Also, as in Another World, you frequently go through a adventure only to circle back to someplace you’ve already been—invariably, something has changed in the interim, something that opens up a new possibility. I was also quite impressed with the balance between linear and lateral thinking. Whenever I got stuck, it was because I was making an unwarranted assumption about how my surroundings worked, an assumption that was clearly contradicted by something I already knew about how, say, swinging pipes worked, but was temporarily forgetting.
The Danes who made this game should be quite proud of themselves. Dare I say that the game itself strikes me as quite Danish, perhaps in a slightly Lars van Trier-esque way?