Low Down, Mean Old Limbo
I finally got to playing Limbo this evening, surely the most hyped platformed since Braid. The hype is certainly deserved for its aesthetics, I think. There were numerous occasions on which I little the little character come to a standstill and thought of just how easily the resulting still image could be a print people frame and display. That’s really quite an accomplishment.
The thing that surprised me most in my first session of play was just how utterly hostile the world of the game is. My ordinary image of a platformer is that the world is often extraordinarily cheerful, and, at worst, kind of indifferent to the player’s progress through it – it’s not like the Goombas are out to get you in Mario, for instance, they just do what they do.
In Limbo the other creatures are menacing and, maybe worse, they seem really unpleasant. The other humans are particularly bad, as they try to kill off the kid by any means possible for no stated reason. The fauna I can maybe understand, animal instincts and so on, but the people are just so mean.
Part of the issue there is the world’s rather flat affect. Obviously, with a title like “Limbo” the designers/artists/etc are playing on exactly that kind of feeling of an unemotional environment. On the other hand, “limbo” speaks to me of neutrality, rather than arbitrary and “unjustified” hostility. The whole thing leaves me playing with simultaneous sadness (at the boy’s fate), irritation (at the lack of reason), and indifference (thanks to the flat affect effect).
All of which is to say that this is a game with serious aesthetics.