Limbo by Playdead
is available in the iTunes App Store for US$4.99.
Some games on iOS are original creations — designed for the touch interface and ready for fun — while others are ports from previously released PC or console games, giving these popular-yet-obscure titles a whole new audience and life on iPads and iPhones.
Enter Limbo, first released in 2010 exclusively for the Xbox Live Arcade. After a year, Playdead ported it to PlayStation 3, Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.
Having never played it before on those other platforms, I had to give it a whirl on my ever-portable iPad 2.
If you start the game fresh, there are almost zero instructions going in, and the description in the App Store is just nine letters long: “Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters LIMBO.”
You start the game in a stark-but-luscious grayscale forest world where you play as a two dimensional side-running and jumping boy with eerie white eyes.
As you touch the screen, you realize that a horizontal swipe or swipe and hold will cause the boy to run left or right. Small movements can result in slow small steps, too. An upward swipe and the boy jumps.
So off you go.
As I ran along, I saw a pit of spikes so I tried to jump over it. I landed in the spikes, and with a sickly penetrating wet sound, impaled my boy and died.
Turns out I heard this spikes-meet-flesh sound a lot throughout the game. Still, the spikes are jumpable, so I jumped them and came up short against a box and wooden-looking structure. I could not climb over it, and since everything is two-dimensional, there was no way to go around it. I ran, I jumped, I tried to push it, all to no avail. I searched for a menu in the game — found none — and starting tapping and swiping all around the screen, hoping to touch some magic spot and change the moment.
Finally, it turns out — if you pay close attention — that if you get the boy close to an object, he’ll sort of reach his hands out toward it. Touch and hold the screen, and the boy will grab the object if it can be grabbed. Grab the box, slide one finger across your iPad screen to the left — and whoa, the boy drags the box to the left.
You can now climb onto the box and scramble past the structural barrier.
Welcome to Limbo world.
As you run along, you’ll have to jump a lot of spikes and holes, climb ropes into trees, climb ladders, and engage in contrived sets of puzzles in a physics-based world. For example, you might have to knock over a tree to make it fall over a chasm of doom, or jump on a stick to release a rolling boulder.
Oh, and there are big bear traps that will spring shut on you with a sickening metallic crunch. If you play like me, you’ll hear those sounds quite a lot until you get used to the controls and recognize the basic rules of Limbo.
You’re Not Alone
Soon enough you run into a spider, which you’ll have to defeat — hint: you can push things, too, like open bear traps — but there’s are other silhouette people who either run away or try to kill you, and either way, their presence is disconcerting. As is the bodies of other boys and perhaps girls you come across.
In all, there are 24 chapters, all with some sort of puzzle element you’ll have to adjust, move, or creatively use in order to continue. Did I say you could use a corpse? You can. But hey, don’t despair, this is what a boy has to do to get through Limbo.
Depending on your skill, you’ve got a few hours of potentially maddening and delightful game play ahead of you. As for me, I sometimes felt as if I had gone into a world of limbo, too — my touchscreen controls didn’t seem as precise as I wanted, causing me to run and jump and die again and again. Was I simply mistiming the jump? Did the iPad not recognize my finger? I sometimes found myself longing to pay Limbo with an Xbox 360 controller — never mind that I only found Limbo because it was released on iOS.
All-in-all, the soundtrack is eerie, the storyline vague — but undeniably moody and intriguing — and the simple dark vision is a work of art.
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