Xbox LIVE Arcade is home to some of the most creative arcade titles from up-and-coming indie developers and established studios on the Xbox 360. Braid, Castle Crashers, and Shadow Complex are shining examples of this and the Summer of Arcade promotion is Xbox LIVE's way of promoting some of the newest titles on the XBLA Marketplace. Summer of Arcade is in its third year, and we had the opportunity to try out one of the most promising games from this year's line-up - Limbo.
The premise is simple. A boy is stuck in limbo - a depressing place on the edge of hell somewhere between life and death; and it's up to you help him survive. That's easier said than done because this puzzle platformer is tricky, and often sadistic, doing all it can to impede his progress.
As you would expect, Limbo isn't a pretty, cheery place, and the game itself is entirely black and white. Yet, the art style is beautiful, with a clever use of white and soft grays to represent hope, and pitch black to evoke fear and despair. This is a 2D side-scroller, so there are no fancy HD graphics, but the amazing artistic design more than makes up for it. Don't let the 2D side-on perspective fool you though; the game uses complex and accurate physics in its platforming segments and puzzles, and although there's not much change in scenery throughout the game, the gameplay variety will keep you hooked from start to finish. Puzzles vary in difficulty, but they're all extremely creative and some will have you scratching your head for quite some time.
While some of them involve moving crates and other objects to reach otherwise unreachable places, certain puzzles are more elaborate, forcing you to adapt to an environment that is constantly moving, and changing direction and perspective, all with the intention of bringing your existence to a sudden and brutal end.
Besides the puzzles there are several other hazards to watch out for. Scary creatures can kill you with one blow, bear traps are laid out in ways that they're barely visible, and the inhabitants of Limbo will create their own elaborate contraptions to halt your progress. When they do get the better of you, death is often gruesome, featuring various forms of dismemberment that will make you cringe despite the game's minimalist visuals.
There's no narrative, no characters to interactive with, and no helpful tips to clue you in on your purpose in this bleak adventure. The only objective is survival, and as you will quickly find, it's more than enough incentive to keep pushing on. But there is a story to Limbo, even if it isn't told to you. It's about a fearless but woefully unequipped little boy who has the odds stacked firmly against him as he makes his way through a nightmarish world, and this a game that will stay with you long after you're done playing it.