It's Limbo Time!

Xbox Live Arcade has made it a habit of releasing a fantastic puzzle-platformer every summer. Games like Braid and ‘Splosion Man have been their marquee summer attractions for the past few years, giving us some fantastic, brain bending gameplay. And this summer will be no different, with the stellar looking Limbo being the likely heir to the crown.

It’s easy to be impressed by the game; it won two major awards at this years IGF (excellence in visual art and design) and its trailer, above, looks stunning.

Want more? Hit the “More” button!

Astute observers will know this trailer isn’t the first we’ve seen of Limbo; in fact, a fair amount of the first area can be previewed here. They would also laugh at my comparisons. Limbo is, at its core, a “puzzle platformer”, but its callback in much further and deeper in time than the puzzle oriented Braid, or the platform oriented ‘Splosion Man.

No, no. Read a bit about the title and you can tell exactly the inspiration for this game: Another World. You know, the cinematic platformer lauded by all sorts of people, most notably Tim Rogers, who called it the best video game of all time. Look at Limbo for a while, and you don’t see it as a cheap cash in on the popularity of puzzle platformers, but as a callback to those dramatic, fear-filled games of yesteryear.

Read an interview about the game (I find this one absolutely fascinating, because you can tell the interviewer hasn’t played a whole lot of games) and you’ll get an idea of the company’s vision. They want a game where you feel attached to your character, enough to be sad when he dies in gruesome ways. They want that fear, that atmosphere that old games like Heart of Darkness and (at its most primordial) Pitfall had. Quick, violent ends to the protagonist, the worry that, at any time, something awful could happen to you.

It’s a retro choice, and while it’s coated in a fantastic coat of atmosphere, it’s this old school approach that fascinates me the most. Platformers have become a genre of extremes recently: they’re either really friendly, where death doesn’t mean anything, or absurdly, punishingly difficult, ameliorated by restarting right there. This game seems to be more of a happy medium: death means something, because of the connection you have to the character (connection to a character in a platformer? Perish the thought!), but despite death happening sometimes it’s not a frequent, arbitrary occurrence, like it was in Another World.

It looks to be a fantastic game, deserving of all its awards, and one of my most anticipated games of 2010.