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Limbo is the latest offering in the games-as-art argument

Microsoft's Summer of Arcade promotion on Xbox Live has officially begun, and already there's a title worth your 1200 Microsoft Points in the form of Playdead's Limbo. And as tight-fisted as I have to be these days, that's saying a lot.

Since the game is short, this overview will be short: In a nutshell, you play a boy who wakes up in the woods and must track down his sister, winding through the countryside, a mine, a factory, a cityscape and so on. It's a straightforward platformer, but it's the way the platforms progress that makes it special.

After winning Downloadable Game of the Year at E3, Limbo was released on Xbox Live last Thursday to rave reviews (its Metascore is 92), but all the writing in the world doesn't do it justice. There is no dialogue in the game. There are no cut scenes, no tutorials, not even a real musical score. And those are all plusses.

What Limbo does have is ambience and a simplicity of gameplay that belies its complexity. In the space of the four hours it took to complete the myriad puzzles, I ran across water traps, machine guns, anti-gravity wells and electromagnets. Nothing was explained, nothing was given away — it was me, two buttons, an analog stick and an exceedingly challenging gauntlet of puzzles. Cutting my teeth on 8-bit consoles, this is how games were meant to be.

But in those short hours, with a scant backstory and no narration, there was an evocation of emotion hard to find in many big budget games, and an ending so abrupt and enigmatic, I'll be turning it over and around in the back of my mind for days. Yes, it was that good, especially for $15 — less than a movie ticket in many cities.

And in the neverending debate over whether games qualify as art, does that not meet the criteria?

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at jgillin@tampabay.com.

Limbo is the latest offering in the games-as-art argument 07/25/10 [Last modified: Sunday, July 25, 2010 9:06pm]

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