Review: Limbo by Playdead
I don't often take the time to play computer games. As with reading, I feel the need to create a window of time and build a nest to lounge in. Someone should write a gaming version of If on a Winter's Night a Traveler or even an Invisible Cities game...
Limbo, I must admit, I put off playing. I can easily sit and watch someone game, generally where there's a narrative, so it becomes a sort of interactive film. I enjoy the looking up every now and then, responding to things I see. So are all the dragons trying to kill you? Oh when did you become a cat? Is that a smoking jacket you're wearing?
Games are a digital step up from the Choose Your Own Adventure story books I read as a child. If you choose to go through Door A, please go to page 49. If you choose Door B, please go to page 56. You flick forward to page 49 and read 'Sorry pal, you died.' So you flick back and go to page 56 and the story pushes on. This was a clever way to encourage kids to manipulate narratives and to hunger for more words. There's a brilliant blog about these books here.
Many games now create whole universes of this notion, save zones equivalent to fingers perched in pages, folded corners to mark where you last got up to in the story. Platformers are my earliest experience of gaming. Most Sega games were incredibly hard. We're talking about the days where fun was a priority but so was not talking down to young players, Ecco the Dolphin was for this seven year old more than a bit baffling. (It still is now.)
Over wrought with instructions, less emphasis is placed now on an organic exploration. You don't need to think much because the game will think for you. Sometimes this is helpful but 99% of the time it makes me want to switch off. I wish there was a 'no forced instruction' option on these kinds of games, just let me play.
As a kid I never had a Megadrive of my own, so playing games always happened in short bursts at the houses of male friends I'd managed to nag my mam to let me visit. I always spent the first ten minutes getting to grips with the controllers. Sometimes cheaper replacement controllers had extra sticks and buttons, as many a controller was lost to AAA overkill. I still struggle with that aspect of games, there's just no muscle memory there.
The point of all this is that platformers, games that involve walking, jumping, bouncing or at times flying through a series of mazes, the games that made Sega famous, are my favourites.
Limbo is a platformer worthy of adult attention. Completely in monochrome, this simple 2D silhouette aesthetic harks back to days when graphics were simpler and the game was really the thing. Slick and challenging, Limbo will set your pulse racing. I was told to sit in a room with the lights out, put headphones on and play. Nothing else. I'm so glad I did.