Power Hour Review: Limbo (iOS)

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Power Hour Reviews are a new weekly NYMG feature in which we spend one intense hour playing newly released games in order to get a sense not only of game mechanics and characterization, but narrative as well. Let us spend our time first, so that you don’t have to waste yours.

That said, we’re running a little behind here with Limbo for iOS, which was released about a month ago, but as we’re test-driving this new feature, we felt it best to go for the gold, and by gold here, I mean a release of a game we already know to be spectacular: Playdead’s haunting sidescroller, Limbo.

There’s a lot I could say about Limbo in the general sense, but as this feature is meant to address only the first hour of playtime, I’ll keep it short. The game was originally released in 2010 and, with the iOS release, is at this point playable on just about every medium that can run a game. No excuse at this point to skip it if you haven’t played. And why should you play it? Because this humble little gem is game, art, and experience. It’s the real deal… and yet there’s no dialogue, no story, hell, no color, just you and your wits in the frail body of a small boy who wakes alone in a mysterious landscape and sets off to find his sister.

I’m bad about double-dipping when games get the iOS treatment, and when I saw Limbo in the App Store, I bought it without thinking. But as it was downloading, I began to wonder how the controls would translate. Limbo’s not very complicated–run, jump, grab, move–but sometimes these things don’t translate quite as well to the touchscreen. Here, though, it works incredibly well. The screen is your d-pad. Pick a spot and it’s control area; move your finger a little to the right, and he’ll begin to run, and keep running until you remove the pressure. Flick upward and he’ll execute a running jump. Easy as can be.

That said, I found that unless I was at the bottom, I was always blocking some part of the screen, which I didn’t want to do. It didn’t interfere with gameplay, but as simple as Limbo is, it’s also gorgeous, and for that reason the onscreen d-pad felt a little odd, but it’s easy to get used to. There are some moments, too, when it’s difficult to get the timing of jumps or movements with the onscreen controls, but hey–no one said this one was gonna be easy.

However, this did mean I died a few more times at first than I liked, and that revealed my only issue with this port. I originally played Limbo on the Xbox with my son, and when we experienced our first death a few minutes in, I was horrified beyond belief. As a player, you’ll watch this little boy smashed, crushed, roasted, speared by spiders, etc… unless you turn off the violence, in which case you’ll be rewarded with a simple fade-to-black a heartbeat before Boy gets impaled (or crushed, etc.). If not for this feature, my young child wouldn’t have played, and would have missed out on the wonderful platforming experience we shared as a family.

You can’t turn off deaths in the iOS version (at least, nothing I tried revealed a setting), and I think this is a serious flaw. I noticed that I was a lot more careful playing on the iPad than I was on the Xbox, because I find those deaths painful and affecting. Of course, that’s how Playdead wanted things to go. Death is bad, death is scary, and every time you fail to figure that puzzle out, your innocent young avatar suffers. It’s one of the many reasons the game is so fantasti. It also made the experience uncomfortable for me personally and I wouldn’t have continued to play if not for the need to write this review. The Xbox experience will be the definitive Limbo for me. Your mileage may vary.

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2 Responses to “Power Hour Review: Limbo (iOS)”

  1. Damien says:

    Yay! So glad you have started doing these.

    Limbo is an absolute classic. Will be interesting to see how the studio follows up on such a gem of a game.

  2. dr. b. says:

    We are having a blast doing them already. We plan to do 5 a month. Keep an eye out!