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'Limbo' is heaven to play

Independent game for Xbox 360 proves 2-D gaming is still going strong

While everyone is busy talking about how 3-D is supposedly going to revolutionize gaming, a little 2-D game is setting the summer on fire.

The game is called "Limbo" and it is, well, heavenly.

With its stripped down, black and white imagery and retro side-scrolling platform action, "Limbo" — which is available to download through Xbox Live Arcade for $15 — delivers some deliciously simple, yet delightfully brain twisting gameplay.

The game drops players into an eerie, forested netherworld with no explanation. You control a boy who is trying to go … where? There is no dialog and no text, so the only way you'd know is if you read the game's description before downloading ("Uncertain of his sister's fate, a boy enters Limbo.")

What you do know is that you probably don't want to be here because death lurks around every corner. Steel traps will get you from underfoot, creatures will leap at you from dark corners, death will drop in from above.

The game developers at Playdead — a small, independent team from Copenhagen — understand that less can often be so much more. They give players the simplest of control schemes to work with — move the boy with the stick, jump with one button, perform all other actions with another button.

But keep an eye on the boy's bright, glowing eyes — where he looks you too should be looking lest you want to meet a jarring end. And you will die … oh yes … you will die time and time again as you try to move your way through this world. But this is Limbo after all. Ultimately, what kills you simply makes you smarter.

"Limbo" won both the Excellence in Visual Art and the Technical Excellence award at this year's Independent Games Festival. And it's easy to see why.

Image: Limbo
Playdead
Beautiful and disturbing at the same time, "Limbo" has lots of surprises and plenty of death in store for you.

"Limbo" sucks you right in to its mysterious and sometimes disturbing world. The puzzles you'll run up against are supremely clever and the game is chock full of surprises. You just don't know what's coming next and I found myself jumping in my seat time after time. The sound design bears mention as well — excellent and extremely effective in its stripped down implementation.

Yes, some of you may remember, there was a time when games like "Super Mario Bros." and even "Grand Theft Auto" existed in two dimensions. Then along came the third dimension — rather than simply moving side-to-side, we could run deeper into the scene and the world before us. And, of course, there's an even newer 3-D experience that has just begun to arrive on our home game consoles. Our gaming is going to jump right out at us … and that is where the future lies. Right?

Hardly.

Decades have passed and 2-D games continue to wow us. A few years back, another 2-D indie game called "Braid" reminded us then what "Limbo" reminds us today. Thoughtful, artful game design really doesn't need to dress up in the latest technology and the biggest special effects to win the day.

You can find Winda Benedetti doing the limbo right here on Twitter.

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