Indie games: whether you love them or hate them, they’re everywhere. There were reportedly over 9,000 games released on Steam in 2018 alone, almost all of which came from small development teams varying in size from a single person to a handful.
Turn the clock back to 2011. There were fewer than 300 games released on Steam that year. This was a time before Unity’s free game engine made it possible to make and publish your own game with limited to no resources.
Basically, before indie games were cool, there was Limbo. I won’t say it was the original indie game when it was first released on Xbox Live Arcade in 2010, but it’s pretty close. In the same way that Super Mario Bros. is the grandfather of modern platformers, Limbo is one of the grandfathers of the modern mass-market indie title. Its success has spawned ports to virtually every major system to date, including mobile devices.
In addition to popularizing indie titles, Limbo also helped to bring simple 2D platformers back into style. Braid arguably led the way with its storytelling, graphical style, and simple yet difficult gameplay. Limbo took a similar approach, although I personally find it to be a more satisfying experience. It has all of the essential elements of a masterpiece.
Limbo has one of the most impressive atmospheres that I have seen in a video game. Completely black and white, the game constantly has a moodiness that is missing from games that include color. There is a certain level of sadness that permeates throughout the game.
The main character is a nameless boy who wakes up in the woods not knowing where he is. At first, I thought the game froze because he just lays there for a while until he opens his eyes. Once you get moving, you work your way through both natural environments – encountering a forest and lake – as well as industrial levels. All of them are connected to each other in a seamless experience.
The gameplay could not be any simpler. The only things that you can do are jump and grab. While this may sound overly basic, it proves to be quite challenging. After all, Limbo is as much about puzzle-solving as it is platforming. You will have to manipulate the environment using chains to swing and boxes to climb. The game’s physics can (and must) be used to your advantage.
Limbo features one of the younger protagonists that you will find in a video game. Even though that’s the case, it did not prevent the developers from making this a particularly brutal game. The boy often finds himself the victim of gruesome deaths at the hands of bear traps, spikes, boulders, and a lurking monster that I won’t spoil. Sometimes the traps and things that would otherwise kill you become a clever tool that must be used to advance in the game.
Limbo can be summed up with just a few words: unique, challenging, moody, violent, and dark. The graphical style is distinct, greatly enhancing the game’s ability to both lure in unsuspecting gamers and scare them half to death when their character dies. The game, unfortunately, is a short-lived affair. However, its short length does not prevent it from being a truly memorable game.
Editor’s Note: Limbo is free at Epic Games Store for a limited time.