Limbo Game for iPad and iPhone review: A puzzle platform masterpiece
'Limbo', fans of unofficial Catholic doctrine won't need to be told, is the speculative afterlife where babies were thought to go if they died before being baptised. Not as bad as Hell, but you don't get to see your loved ones. Oh yes, and you stay there forever.
The almost comical unfairness of the idea is rich source material for a video game, it turns out, lending its name and sense of unwarranted cruelty to this breathtakingly evocative puzzle game. (After all, who has a better understanding of cruelty than a gamer?) Having risen from relative indie obscurity to multi-award-winning superstardom on the Xbox 360, and then PC, PS3 and Mac, Limbo (now known as LIMBO Game) has finally arrived on the iPad and iPhone.
LIMBO Game: Super Mario Sunshine it ain't
So what's the big deal? Well, the look and sound of the thing is an obvious starting point. Limbo is rendered in shadowy, semi-focused silhouette (German Expressionism is the usual reference point), yet from this austere palette the designers have painted something truly sumptuous.
The violent deaths your character will suffer throughout the game are flinch-inducingly shocking, despite (perhaps because) so little is truly seen: the outline of an intestine spilling from your belly as a circular saw does its work; two flailing arms beneath rising waters. And if those examples seem unusually macabre for a platform game - well, welcome to Limbo.
Like the unbaptised infants, you have no idea why you're being punished. Nameless, largely faceless - although blessed with the endearing character of so many of gaming's blank slates - you awake alone in a forest, knowing only that you need to run to the right to accomplish a mysterious goal. Obstacle-based puzzles appear, occasionally of a traditional sort (crates, platforms and lifts) but often in forms that will remind you of Ren and Stimpy, or the film Delicatessen, or a particularly bleak nightmare.
This is going well
The controls are so simple that the game never has to tell you what to do. You simply press anywhere on the screen, then lean your finger in the direction you want to go. You swipe upwards to jump. And when you need to interact with something, the sprite lifts his arm to let you know that a slightly longer press and hold will cause him to drag a cart, pull a lever or wrench the leg off a giant dying spider.
If we have any reservations, they're mostly to do with length: slick puzzle-platform veterans are likely to cruise through Limbo in a few hours (we got our money's worth by floundering feebly over the later puzzles). But £2.99 isn't a huge outlay, and Limbo shares with that other masterpiece Portal the sense that it is exactly the right length: there's no padding, no repetition, and it finishes when it needs to. Still, if you're looking for the game that will entertain you for the next couple of weeks, this isn't it.
The only other thing is that the controls, simple as they are, can be a bit fiddly at moments of crisis, particularly the switch from movement to interaction or vice versa. Swear words may be uttered. Other than that, however, we are left to give Limbo our most passionate and wholehearted recommendation.
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Austere, melancholy, yet often hilarious, LIMBO Game is a work of art. Puzzle gaming experts may consume its evocative delights so quickly that they're left demanding more, while the less able may find the steep learning curve towards the end somewhat taxing, but both groups will find something here to love.