Switch owners have been spoiled for moody, melancholic platformers of late. First, we got the Metroidvania masterpiece that was Hollow Knight, then the beautifully grim platform-puzzling of Inside and its equally downbeat older cousin, Limbo. We've already taken a look at Inside and recommended it wholeheartedly. But if you haven't played either of Playdead's games to date, we'd advise considering a playthrough of Limbo first. It's a great way to build to Inside, with many of the storytelling tricks and mechanical twists of the newer game foreshadowed in Limbo. It's almost like seeing the expert sketches that precede the painting of a masterpiece.
That would be to (rather floridly) undersell Limbo a little bit, though. It remains a great platform-puzzler in its own right, with its own highly influential style and tone. You play the part of a bright-eyed young boy, deposited into a dark fantasy underworld that seems to represent some kind of ghastly afterlife. It's never spelled out to you because, well, that's not Playdead's style. Without a word, you find yourself running to the right, scrambling over ledges, jumping between elevated platforms and dodgy cruel traps.
Pretty soon you'll discover that you can interact with objects - boxes, grates, levers - by holding 'A' and pressing a direction. It's this simple mechanic that lays the foundation for some genuinely head-scratching physics puzzles. The solution is always just a means to get to higher ground or to move forward, but the variety of ways in which this occurs reveals a cunning mind on the part of the developer.
There's a fair amount of frustration built into Limbo. Each of its puzzles requires you to do more than just figure out a solution - you then need to execute your plan, often with some pixel-perfect platforming and expert timing. The checkpointing is excellent, but that also means that you'll find yourself running through the same brief gameplay loops multiple times until you nail it. Knowing how to do something and yet failing repeatedly can get a little tiresome if you're not the persistent sort.
The key to this is Limbo's uniquely weighty handling. It's never left in doubt that you're playing a weedy child rather than a spring-heeled platforming mascot, and that means that you're slow on your feed, with a pathetic little hop for a jump. Dealing with the protagonist's inherent weakness soon becomes a major part of Limbo's appeal, however, as you learn to become more cautious and attentive. It also drives the game's deliberately vague background narrative, though this is something that needs to be experienced rather than explained.
It's all sold convincingly with a striking silhouetted art style, which calls to mind vintage black and white horror films, complete with grainy filter. If this looks at all familiar to you, it's because an awful lot of games have aped Playdead's work with Limbo in recent years. Its immediate impact may have dulled slightly due to that familiarity, but it hasn't aged much at all.
Docked mode is definitely the best way to experience Limbo though. Its muted art style reveals that the Switch display isn't at its best when handling lots of shades of black. It's just a little too reflective, and we were constantly aware of our face gawping back at us. Still, the game runs very well in both docked and portable modes. Just be sure to find a dark corner to play it in if you're going handheld.
Another quick note on Limbo's relationship to its brilliant brother. Playing Limbo straight after a complete run-through of Inside is a curious experience. In fact, it's not necessarily something we'd recommend. You can tell that the two share a lot of common DNA, but Inside is such a step forward in every way that Limbo inevitably suffers by comparison.
The release of both simultaneously is unfortunate timing in a way, and it might have been a better idea to stagger the release. But that's a small quibble. Stood in isolation, Limbo remains an outstanding and highly influential platform-puzzler. With its lower price, it's also the perfect companion piece. Do yourselves a favour and buy both.
Limbo remains a brilliantly moody and expertly poised platform-puzzler a full eight years on from its original release. It might be a little stark, but it's dense with ingenious physics puzzles and weighty platforming challenges. It's the perfect cut-price companion piece to Inside, and a brilliant game in its own right.