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Video Game / Limbo (2010)
aka: Limbo

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"Insects are a recurring theme in the game, because that's exactly what you are: a tiny, scared, insignificant insect, gazing up incomprehensibly at the towering food chain at the bottom of which you lie."

Limbo is a 2D puzzle platforming horror game, and the debut release from Danish independent game studio Playdead. It was originally released in July 2010 on Xbox Live Arcade, becoming the third-highest-selling game on the service that year, and was later ported with additional content to the Play Station Network, Steam, Android, iOS, and the Nintendo Switch.

The game's story is simple: you control a nameless young boy in Limbo, searching for his sister. There is no dialog or text of any kind to guide you — just the boy and a really, really horrible environment. There are many deadly puzzles, challenges and traps that can get you killed in shockingly violent ways. (A gore filter can make the deaths less grisly, but no less terrifying.) When combined with the protagonist's limited moveset — he's entirely unarmed and can only jump, push/pull objects (like boxes and levers), climb ledges, and swing on ropes — Limbo's sense of helplessness and trepidation is intense.

Something of huge contrast and surprise between regional ratings, the ESRB somehow let the game pass with only a T for Teen rating, while PEGI gave it an 18, the strictest rating they have. If you see the more graphic deaths (though, to be fair, they're all completely silhouetted), you'll understand why some think the ESRB would have, or even should have, given it an M for Mature rating instead.

Players draw many comparisons to Braid, another short indie platformer with a unique art style and an unorthodox narrative examining gameplay tropes.

The next Playdead release, 2016's Inside, largely functions as a Spiritual Successor to Limbo. It's very much in the same style — a young boy explores a dangerous and hostile world, but the setting this time is an incomprehensibly large facility of some kind, and it uses a more realistic art style rather than the silhouette style of Limbo.

Do not confuse with Limbo of the Lost, although that's pretty terrifying in its own special way. Also unrelated to the animated web series Limbo.

This game provides examples of:

  • 100% Completion: If you finish the main game path without exploring too much, you'll only receive a 75% or so complete rating. Finding the bonuses fills in the rest of the percentage.
  • Advancing Boss of Doom: Early on, you're forced to run from a Giant Spider.
  • Advancing Wall of Doom: Sawblades appear in this capacity later in the game. The last part of the secret level has you pinned between two auto-firing machine guns moving along the ceiling, forcing you to keep running at a certain pace to avoid being shot by either.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: The spider ultimately meets its fate as a tool that the boy uses to advance. In the state of its demise, it's virtually helpless, as all of its legs are ripped off.
  • Alien Blood: The spider has white blood.
  • All Just a Dream: During the final puzzle, the boy crashes into a magical wall and lies down unconscious in a forest. When you get up and can move again, you can go left, only to find more forest where the hazardous industrial world once was. To your right, his sister awaits, playing in the grass as if your whole adventure was just a dream... Or Was It a Dream?
  • All Webbed Up: Happens to the protagonist in the early parts of the game. However, he can struggle free and move around with enough effort.
  • Ambiguous Ending: You find your sister sitting peacefully in a clearing, apparently picking flowers. She sees you and stands up. Cut to black.
  • Asshole Victim: A tribe of evil children in the beginning will try to kill you repeatedly, and run up to their treehouses when they fail. Unfortunately, while they're safe from you, the giant spider has no such limitations.
  • Badass Adorable: You, being a young child that can climb ladders, jump from rope to rope, and deal with gigantic bugs even when you can't fight them directly.
  • Bear Trap: A couple of them early on. The first one you see are actually two next to each other; unless you spot the signs, you'll die horribly. After that, there's two more which are both used to your own advantage.
  • Blackout Basement: Some areas indeed have inconsistent lighting. In fact, some of the secrets are in complete darkness.
  • Blow Gun: Some of the creepy children are shown shooting poison darts at you.
  • Book Ends:
  • Body Horror: There are glowing worms (popularly referred to as 'brain slugs') that burrow into your head and force you to walk in one direction. Before that happens to you, you encounter other kids who are in the same situation; some are dead.
  • Brutal Bonus Level: The PSN, PC, Xbox One and Switch versions have one if you collect all the insect eggs. Its entrance is past where the "Alone in the Dark" egg is found, and when you beat it you come out at the elevator underneath which you find the "Under Ground" egg. It's extremely long, dark, and difficult, and there are several places where you'll have to navigate by sound alone.
  • By the Lights of Their Eyes: The protagonist's eyes are like this, and his death is signified by the lights in them going out.
    • An insect egg found later in the game requires you to navigate a dark cavern with your eyes as the only light source.
  • Bullet Time: Just as you solve the last puzzle. You get an excellent view of the protagonist flying slowly through an energy barrier and tumbling pitifully up a grassy hill. Then you get up and finally find your sister.
  • Butterfly of Death and Rebirth: This is subtle but, initially, you see a small white butterfly that goes towards your sister early in the game while the brain slug leads you away.
  • Children Are Innocent: Averted to horrifying effect; the tribal children you encounter several times in the game are armed and keen on killing you, and you, a little boy, have to do several disturbing things in order to progress.
  • Controllable Helplessness: Early on, you run across some goop on the floor that slows you to a crawl, then finally immobilizes you. You realize that it's spider webbing just as the giant spider approaches and webs you up. In the demo, the spider just kills you at this point instead.
  • Crate Expectations: Puzzle elements, to the point where you'll know a puzzle is coming up whenever you see a crate or box.
  • Creepy Child: The other kids you meet early on, some of whom try to kill you.
  • Creepy Crows: At one point you find a lone crow cawing while perched on top of a hanging cage. The hanging cage next to the one with the crow has a human corpse inside of it.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: There are some very sinister-looking black worm/bird things that hang from the ceiling and have vicious mandibles. They're no threat to you, but they do a good job eating those brain slugs. There's also some sort of dog/gerbil/frog thing at one point, but all it does is run away when you go near it. You can even earn it as a pet for your Xbox avatar after beating the game.
  • Dead All Along: Never outright said, but certainly possible.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The only time you see some color is when Friend Notifications or Achievement/Trophy alerts pop up, and that's only on the console versions. On Steam, even the Achievement pop-up is black and white except if you're using a custom Steam skin that has color.
  • Determinator: The boy. Also, the giant spider. It really wants to eat you, even when it has only one leg left. The spider even disregards other potential meals when it chases you.
  • Downer Ending: The boy finds his sister. Roll credits. The title screen fades into the same area, but the player might just see resemblances between the final image and the title screen. See Noodle Incident.
  • Down the Drain: At least one of the sections of the game where you have to outrun water.
  • Eldritch Location: The entirety of Limbo with all its darkness, peril, cruelty of the residents, and the strange gravity-manipulating devices near the end. You end up inside of it by mysteriously waking up in its forest. You leave it by having gravity pull you through a magical wall. Sideways.
  • Eternal Engine: A large portion of the game is spent amidst electrified rails, buzzsaws, and gear spokes.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: The local ecology is doing its hardest to murder you, and boy, will it succeed. There are parasitic brain slugs that will more often than not cause a player to panic and then subsequently perish. There's a giant spider out to turn you into a shish kebab, spikes growing out of the ground. The only time the local wildlife isn't out to get you is when the other humans are. Particularly notable is that instead of having sentient inanimate objects in the usual style of the trope, you quite often end up killed by reactions to the way you change the environment. Break a load-bearing branch? The tree's coming down on you. Don't move out of the way of a platform when gravity is shifting it in your direction? Squish. Press a switch to release a box while you're standing under it? Hope you like that broken neck. Nearly all of the deaths in the last third of the game are impersonal in this sense, projecting a unique aura of helplessness to the proceedings.
    • One of the fan theories about the game is that all of the obstacles are things the boy feared when he was still alive. Another fan theory posits the obstacles are the things that the sister feared, and the boy has to power through them to get to her.
  • Featureless Protagonist: He's a silhouette with eyes, and that's about it; however, if you look closely at the outline, you can tell he's wearing a sweater, shorts, and a pair of sneakers. Also, in some parts of the game, you can see flies buzzing around him...
  • Fission Mailed: At one point, you get caught by the Giant Spider and get All Webbed Up. However, you are able to struggle free and continue onwards, despite still being bound in the web.
  • Foreshadowing: One of the first things the boy does is cross a river on a boat.
  • Giant Spider: The boss in the forest level is a very large spider.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: There's a gore filter in the options that has the game cut to black right before you die. Doesn't remove the sounds, though.
  • Gravity Screw:
    • The final section of the game has devices that turn the gravity upside down. First, it only affects items, then you, too.
    • A few sections earlier, there are devices that fully rotate the environment.
    • The very last puzzle turns the gravity sideways.
  • Hailfire Peaks: The very last part of the game is a mash-up of many previous areas; forest, industrial, part of the hotel sign, and so on.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: Not a human heartbeat, but the Giant Spider has a distinctive, low-pitched buzzing noise that plays in the background whenever it's around. It finally stops when you shove the thing into a spike pit.
  • Hell Hotel: More accurately, limbo hotel. A section of the game takes place there.
  • Hope Spot: A few. Most notably the fake ending and the one in the secret level, where after a long and difficult trek dodging sawblades and other industrial dangers in complete darkness, you come into a serene, quiet, and well-lit area. Then you're plunged back into the darkness and the machine guns open fire.
  • Interface Screw: When a brain slug drops on you, you are forced to run in the opposite direction from where you were heading and you can't stop. If you run into a patch of sunlight, you switch direction.
  • I Will Find You: The plot of the game is the boy searching for his sister. No other explanation is given.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The first third or so of the game is populated by what appears to be a Lord of the Flies-style tribe of evil children, who've set up traps (among other things) for the boy. Also, they seem to set traps for each other as well.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: When running away from one of the native hunter children trying to kill you, you can jump over a platform that activates a crushed that can smush you. The hunter is heading towards you, about to kill with a blow gun, when he steps on the ground platform, killing him just in time.
  • Leap of Faith: A couple of pits are designed to trick you.
  • The Lost Woods: The first area in the game is a dark, misty forest with a giant monster spider wanting to kill you.
  • The Many Deaths of You: The game is not shy of showing the boy get crushed, shred apart, electrocuted, drown and impaled.
  • Mature Work, Child Protagonists: This game could be the poster for the trope. This trope would continue to be explored in the next game by the developer, INSIDE.
  • Mind Screw: This trope eventually shows up when the fake ending occurs. The sister is up ahead, but a brain slug turns you around. A light mysteriously appears in the previous area, spinning you forward again; but by the time you get back to where she should be, you're in more of the factory instead.
  • Minecart Madness: A short section of the game has minecarts (or a variant) to use to either get around or move things at different intervals. If you aren't careful, these could get you killed.
  • Minimalism: Less is definitely more in this case. No dialogue, no exposition, no fancy controls, no color... and yet, this game wouldn't have nearly the atmospheric impact if it did have any of these.
  • Nightmarish Factory: The boy traverses an extensive one near the end of the game. Whatever it produced, it involved a lot of flattening and sawing.
  • No Name Given: The child protagonist.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: The game has the player completing a bunch of puzzles throughout the game with little rhyme or reason, and if there is a plot, it's incredibly esoteric and is only doled out in tiny hints that can go over player's heads. Creator Arnt Lindsay has said that he deliberately kept things vague.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Shows up by default with the lethal traps that come with the machinery-based puzzles in the game's second half. Justified, however; this is limbo, after all.
  • Noodle Incident: The kid and his sister are strongly implied to be dead, as evidenced by the ending and title screen. But how did they both die, and why is the rope ladder on their treehouse broken? Maybe it's best we don't know.
  • No Sidepaths, No Exploration, No Freedom: The game's linearity and puzzles are much more rigid than Braid's. But secrets are still out there.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: A lot of things in the game are scary specifically because you can't see them clearly and you don't know why they're there: strange bundles lying in the grass or hanging from ropes that might be dead bodies, unearthly creatures that run away or attack you before you can get a good look at them, deserted industrial landscapes and creaking machinery whose function remains a mystery, and so on.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You…: Sometimes it's the sawblades.
  • Offscreen Start Bonus: At the very start of the game, going in the wrong direction leads to an egg that provides an Achievement.
  • Off with His Head!: Many things can cause this — simple ordinary bear traps, for example.
  • One-Word Title: The title is Limbo, perhaps for the possibility that the protagonist and his sister are dead.
  • Overcrank: The game employs dramatic slow motion for the climactic image of the boy being launched sideways through a glass wall at the end.
  • Le Parkour: While the boy doesn't do any of the fancy wall-runs or fence-hops, he does a fair amount of leaping over pits and ledge-climbing.
  • Personal Space Invader: The brain slugs. which come out of nowhere and steer you away from your sister and into whatever danger there is (like steering one kid into a lake to drown).
  • Post-Processing Video Effects: Limbo applies a film grain filter to the graphics.
  • Pressure Plate: Some of the buttons. A rather nasty trap early on has one apparent pressure plate actually being the safe zone for a huge smasher; hopping onto the depressions to its sides is what kills you. This would be easier to navigate if it wasn't right next to another identical trap where the thing sticking up is the kill-button... and you have to pass through both of them twice.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: Glowing slugs may plop onto your head. They force you to walk or run forward — you can only control your speed, and whether or not you jump. They are sensitive to bright lights, however, and if you run into one, it will sizzle and force you to run in the opposite direction. There are some ceiling-dwelling critters that can reach out and pluck the brain slug from your head, but getting to them is the real challenge. When we first see the slugs in action, it's on another human who's being forced into a pool of water, to drown...
  • Purgatory and Limbo: The nameless boy awakens in the middle of a forest on the "edge of hell", looking for his missing sister. The atmosphere in general, as is common in depictions of Limbo, is a gray place with only silhouettes, and the eyes are seen as monochromatic white eyes.
  • Puzzle Boss: Getting past your first encounter with the Giant Spider requires getting its legs caught in bear traps instead of you.
  • Rasputinian Death: The aforementioned spider. First you chop three of its legs off with a bear trap, then you lure it into the path of an oncoming boulder, which in turn knocks it over a cliff, then you pull out its last leg, and finally you roll its body into a spike pit.
  • Recurring Boss: The first third or so of the game features repeat appearances by a Giant Spider. The first time you see him he's a Puzzle Boss, the next two times he's an Advancing Boss of Doom, and you finally defeat him in a Curb-Stomp Battle.
  • Rise to the Challenge: One part of the game forces the player to navigate through sections with rising water.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The protagonist removes three of the spider's limbs to get past it in their first encounter. It pursues him with absurd persistence, ultimately costing the Spider every single one of its other limbs. Special note goes to when it tears through one of the children's camps, tossing them out of its way in its single-minded pursuit of you.
  • Saw Blades of Death: Some areas feature noisy saw blades that are deadly on touch. They can be static or they can also move back and forth.
  • Scarecrow Solution: Not long into the forest level, you see some more of those dreaded spider legs poking out from a nearby tree—but they're a fake. The hostile humans in the area set them up to scare you away.
  • Scenery Porn: Breathtaking black and white worlds, combined with effective use of grainy filters, make for a beautiful experience. However, the scenario paints a very grim, hostile world, where no inhabitant is truly safe. Even your enemies.
  • Schmuck Bait: Everywhere, but in particular, the first third of the game.
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: You are always shown as a silhouette with eyes. However, this does nothing to ease away the squickiness and horror of your many, many deaths.
  • Smash to Black: An optional example available, which censors the gory deaths of the boy, but leaves the sound in.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: One scene has hopeful-sounding ambient music playing while machine guns fire at you.
  • Spikes of Doom: In some sections. And you're not the only one vulnerable to them.
  • Stupidity Is the Only Option: The parasitic worms are easy to see, considering they're white and everything else is dark. Doesn't matter; you still have to pass under them and get infected. There's no avoiding them.
  • Super Drowning Skills: In any body of water that comes up above your head, you drown almost immediately and sink like a stone. There's an audible cue for near-drowning; the soundtrack will begin to fade and it's only after that point that you'll die. You can still press the movement keys which causes the boy to twitch as he dies...
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The spider. It never gives up hunting the kid for as long as it lives, despite having only one leg in its final appearance.
  • Treehouse of Fun: Many of them can be seen. Though "fun" takes a whole different meaning.
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay: In fact, the developer described it as "trial-and-death" gameplay. Chances are, on your first playthrough, that you'll die quite often while trying to figure out a couple of puzzles. The best example of this is the pair of mechanical crushers early on. To avoid causing the first one to fall on you, you must step on the elevated square underneath it. For the second one, you have to avoid an identical square. There's no indication of the solution, other than dying and trying again. It is so easy to die in this game that one of the Xbox Achievements for the game is a "no-death run" in which you're allowed to die up to five times and still get the Achievement.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: The protagonist is a child. A cute kid who is getting slaughtered by everything. Give it a few deaths and you'll be dodging the puzzles for his sake, not your own.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: After beating the game the player has the option of replaying any of the chapters. Kind gamers can enjoy their favorite puzzles over and over while helping the boy reach his goal. Sadistic players can see just how many different ways it's possible to kill the poor kid...
  • Weakened by the Light: The brain slugs have this as their only weakness. If you walk into the light while under the influence of one of these, you'll be forced to walk away in the other direction.
  • Weather-Control Machine: A somewhat nondescript machine early on makes it rain when activated.
  • When It Rains, It Pours: When you turn on a weather machine, it starts raining so hard that the next portion of gameplay is devoted to avoiding drowning in the ever-rising water.
  • Who Forgot The Lights?: Some parts of the game are not recommended to be played during daytime. It's that dark.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: A fair bit of the way into the industrial portion of the game, you will emerge in a small, forested area, with the treehouse and the girl you were looking for — then a brain slug plops onto your head and forces you to run the other way. When you get back, there is no forest or treehouse...

Alternative Title(s): Limbo