Few video game developers can claim to have ever received the amount of praise and admiration as indie developer Playdead did when they released their first title Limbo. Released in 2010 for Xbox Live Marketplace during a time when the gaming landscape wasn’t plagued by aspirational indie game companies chomping for a piece of the consumer pie, in 7 years the game’s notable monochromatic aesthetic, morbid themes, and simple play style have gone on to inspire a wealth of other games. Almost going so far as to create a genre all its own.
Many – including myself – still cherish the experience Limbo was able to provide largely due to how ambiguous and metaphorical its “story” ended up being. Hundreds of people have speculated as to what the presence of spiders in the game mean, why the boy protagonist feels the need to escape, and THAT ending, which I won’t spoil here. It was a stroke of genius on Playdead’s part to create a puzzle-platformer that feels infinitely fulfilling upon completion, but still leaves enough wiggle room for players to interpret the events in their own way.
Still, in 2017, Limbo’s lasting legacy continues to inspire and influence a whole new generation of game publishers and creators, its story, art direction, and music easily seen in games like Little Nightmares, Black The Fall, and even Playdead’s follow-up Inside. This is so much the case that many reviewers and fans can’t help but compare said experiences to the game that laid down the original template, and this is still an obstacle anyone who wants to release a 2D side-scrolling puzzle-platformer that even remotely uses a Black tone will need to overcome.
Much in the same way that every AAA video game seems to fall into the category of an open-world action RPG these days, certain indie games are falling into the trap of find their own voice and message. Little Nightmares, a game which places you in the role of a yellow-cloaked child known only as six, differs slightly thanks in part to a plasticine-like tactility that contrasts Limbo’s more hollow shadow figures – but it’s still cannot escape being mentioned in the same circles.
Maybe this emphasis on the rather dark and obscured lighting often used in games of Limbo’s ilk is simply a clever workaround that helps indie devs save on costs, but this unfortunately comes at the detriment of consistently being likened to the game that did it first. I like Limbo, I like Little Nightmares, but I’m sure I’d like the latter a lot more should it have chosen to break away from the certain simplistic characteristics of Playdead’s seminal 2010 classic!
I fear that the term “Limbo-like” is dangerously close to solidifying itself as its own genre, similar to how we reference procedurally generated games “roguelikes” now. But I doubt anyone remembers Rogue to the degree they remember Limbo.