Limbo Afterthoughts

Having just finished Limbo I’ve just decided to start writing about it. Across the next two weeks, I’ll write two editorials on both how Limbo is a gutsy game and how it proves some gamer ideologies wrong. I’ll get into that but what I want to share today is just some quick afterthoughts on Limbo. I finished it just literal minutes ago.


In my opinion, the ending started as something completely amazing. Just the shock and awe of bursting from the industrial palace and into the wilderness, I could tell that he had broken through Limbo. What happened however was something completely different. I was expecting something to happen but instead what happened was something remarkable. For the first time, in a long long time, a gamer made me on the verge of tears. It’s never happened before, but I was on the verge because of what the developer had set up.

All they needed to do was pull off that set-up, which they didn’t.

What I guess, from after you burst through the wall, and the little boy twinkles his eyes was that the game was completely cyclical. That the boy would be trapped in Limbo forever, and as I started wandering around, I noticed a lot of similarities to the beginning of the game. When I wandered left, however, it opened up to a little pond. I never thought to wander left at the beginning of the game, and now that I was thinking about it, perhaps the same pond was there.

So, the developers would have instead of having a giant crux of an abrupt story moment, would have pulled one of the greatest gaming moments of all time. This would have probably placed Limbo in my top five games of all time.

It’s just too bad that they tried to fit in a story.

For all the comparisons that I will make, this game reminds me of Crackdown. Yes, they are so far away from each other both in terms of aesthetics and gameplay, but in terms of story presentation – they’re entirely the same. For the full length of Crackdown, up until the ending, the story does not take centre stage. You kill gang leaders and basically wreck nice havoc in a free-roam style playground, until you’re reminded (in the ending) on the actual consequences of your actions. It’s not the absolute kick to the balls that Red Dead Redemption did, it’s one of those moments where you just know the developer wanted to squeeze a story in.

So, there I was, wandering to the right (in Limbo) and I was expecting the game to start all over again. I was so taken back by it, it was genuinely going to be one of the greatest gaming moments of all time. All the boxes were checked. The boy twinkling his eyes as he gets up, the familiar environment, zero audio cues. Well, the last one was right up until the end of my wandering, when this soothing music started playing. Then I saw the boy’s sister, who I don’t give a damn about. This type of storytelling is worse than any bad storytelling, it’s the type that is non-existent and then suddenly comes into power at the very end. They made it interesting in Crackdown, but here, it’s just really out of place.

If Limbo hadn’t performed its ending, and even if it didn’t perform the one that I outlined (a true cyclical game) I would’ve placed it in my top five games of all time.

That’s obviously not to say it’s not in my top ten. It’s there, but really only because of the build-up. The platforming and puzzling is all mindblowing, the pacing is exquisite and you’re always been introduced to new elements. It’s the scariest most gut-wrenching game I’ve ever played. I saw a little boy get decapitated and impaled by a spider’s leg. I’m not naturally afraid of real spiders, but just the creepy-crawliness of the giant spider was enough to have me screaming at the television everytime it drew nearer.

Limbo is a masterpiece, for all of its ending faults. It’s beautiful, it’s mindblowing, it’s jaw-dropping and it’s one of the most meaningful experiences you can ever hope to have.

I’ll have an editorial out by the end of the week, about how Limbo is “More Manly Than Any FPS” or something along those lines.

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  • I agree that if they kept the boy in ‘Limbo’ and started the game again — it would have been amazing. Can’t wait to read your next editorial.

  • ern

    Meh. I disagree. Keeping the boy in Limbo would have been silly. All that work for no payoff? It’s a amateurish writing trick. A twist with no payoff. The fact that so many were *expecting* it proves how empty it would be. Instead, the game gives you exactly what you *don’t* expect.

    Of course, the ending of Limbo is weak, but it doesn’t really take away from the game as a whole, which was pretty darn good.

    • Nathan Hardisty (Bananahs)

      “Amateurish writing trick.” in what exactly? Videogames? Not exaclty Limbo was even a ‘written’ videogame.

      I would argue that a cyclical game would have totally reflected ‘Limbo’ as the place it is. It’s open to many interpretations and the strongest one I’ve read is that the boy and his sister are trapped in purgatory.

  • sadj

    Has anyone considered that there may have not been any limbo at all, and that the whole journey was in his head? ‘Limbo’ was him coming into conscience maybe.

    Or perhaps the game IS cyclic; if you remember there is a point in the game when you see your sister in the same setting but then you have turn a switch or something and she disappears. Perhaps the ending is another figment of his imagination and the game ends as it begins.
    Just a thought.

  • Dusty

    I think it would have been even better if it turned out his sister was the goddess of Limbo and as she turned to face him she transformed into a horrid beast and unleashed a massive horde of giant spiders. But thats just what I think.

  • Joe


    I have to say I loved this game. Although short it was a refreshing change of pace from my usual games.

    As for the ending, EPIC. I don’t know what actually happened but my take… The boy and girl are dead but only the boy is in purgatory, the girl is just a lost soul. I think they both died and it has something to do with the tree house. For him to be in such a hell it suggests to me that maybe he felt responsible for her death? On the title screen the ladder is broken and there are two sets of flies hovering (around where the girl was sitting at the end of the game). In the game, flies signify rotting corpse. Two sets of flies, two corpses?

    Early on in the game, the boy sees her but she disappears. When he does finally find her at the end, and walks close to her, she seems to sit bold upright this time… as if she knew someone else was there this time. I think he broke through that limbo hell and found his way back to her. Now two lost souls, but together at the very least.

  • Danomeon

    Personally, I think that making the game cyclical would have diminished the feeling of accomplishment I gained for finally finding the sister.

    I was kind of expecting something more, though. I wanted the game to blow my mind with the story like it had the puzzles and the artwork, similar to the ending of Braid. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite reach that.

  • Danomeon

    OH. I just discovered. Go to the title screen of the game. You see the same forest scene with the little girl, only the ladder is destroyed and it is raining. There are two human figures dead on the ground. There is a car on the road above.

    Connect the dots. The car crash killed the two in that scene, and the boy goes to the place where they died in the afterlife to meet his sister after death. The glass crash at the end represented the boy flying through the windshield.


    • Joe

      I don’t think that’s a road, I think it’s a tree. It looks like a tree. I see the ladder going up to a tree house, not a car.

    • Nathan Hardisty (Bananahs)

      That’s a fantastic interpretation, but I don’t see a car. I see the two dead figures though.

  • A-Ron

    Ya know Danomeon..

    I think you’re onto something. That smashed glass at the end definitely had to be important.

  • JR

    A cyclical ending can only work for a game if they do it the same way they would do a movie (i.e. The Hurt Locker). You have to leave the viewer/player with a “sense” of repetition, without making them actually play through it. Don’t even give them the possibility. You could have shown his eyes glowing, and then end the game right there. But the more he’s allowed to roam, after that, the less effective it becomes.

    However, the thing I noticed is that he never physically reaches his sister before the credits roll. In that sense, I think it was a very effective ending. You “reached” her, so in that sense you win. But you didn’t physically reach, or even make verbal contact with her, so in that sense you’re still left hanging. Easily a candidate for a sequel if they decide to make one. Hopefully longer, of course.

    • Nathan Hardisty (Bananahs)

      I think you’re right in that it would be more effective if the game actually ended in linear progression, but I don’t like your “Like a movie” sentiment.

      • Having completed Limbo, I’m struck by how quickly and unexpectedly the whole thing closes. At just 81% completion, I settled for a solid 30 – 60 minutes of game play only to realize that my last save point was at the final puzzle. The completion percentage, as I should have probably been able to guess, includes room for all the possible achievements in the game. So if you’re using this to gauge how close you are to the finish it may be misleading.

        Now taking into account the obvious spoiler warning (this is a post about the ending after all) I found it to be interesting but not exactly satisfying. My biggest mistake was probably that I continued to draw parallels to Braid while playing this monochromatic protagonist. Preparing myself for a closing scene like Braid’s mind-melting, holy-crap-clever finish was a big mistake.

        Limbo ends in a subtle way and leaves a lot to interpretation. I’m not talking Journey on the jukebox subtle, but it is a pretty gray ending in my read. Was the boy dead and in Limbo throughout the game, only to break through to heaven (or hell?) in the closing scene and find his sister? Maybe the game was just a flash during his dying moment where he played out all his fears (spiders, falling, gun shots, electrocution) as he faded into black. Puzzling stuff.

        Lot’s of attention has been drawn to the two groups of buzzing flies in the opening menu, which are suspiciously arranged in the locations that the boy and his sister stop during the ending. I think this is a pretty strong message that both siblings are – in fact – toast. What it doesn’t answer is the “how” or what happened since. One theory I was toying with was the idea that somehow the boy was responsible for his sister’s death, or at least felt so. Perhaps they fell from the tree that the flies collect under, and the boy was unable to stop the catastrophe. It might explain the dream like way he experiences changes in gravity and innumerable near misses throughout the dark game.

        I expect eventually we’ll get some clues from the creative minds at PlayDead as to how to interpret the ending. Though I’m sure, similar to Jonathan Blow’s cryptic comments on Braid,
        the artistic interpretation will be left largely to the player. Just like a good piece of art should be. Take that Roger Ebert.

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  • TunaFishSammich

    The whole thing that makes the ending great is it leaves so much for interpretation for the player. It’s the first game in a long time where I finished it and it made me think about…WTF just happened??

    If I had to choose any interpretation, it would be that it was a car accident. The whole crashing through the glass at the end (being ejected through a car windshield), plus the flaming tires that they throw at you earlier in the game is just makes too much sense. Not sure about the car at the top of the title screen, but I guess if you use your imagination…

    This was just an overall great game. The puzzles were just right (hard, but nothing crazy), it kept me on the edge of my seat for the most part and the lack of an actual story line was a fantastic way to get peoples imagination going (creeped me out a little bit).

    Could have been longer, but it’s got decent re-playability.

  • Jake

    Ask yourself this: just what is his sister DOING?

    My take: She is burying the body of her brother. Whom she killed. Presumably by pushing him out of their treehouse.

    Meanwhile, her brother wakes in Limbo, his revanant eyes burning with vengeance. He overcomes everything purgatory has to throw at him and breaks back into the world of the living, startling his murderer as he exacts his revenge.

    Later, we see the dilapidated remains of the treehouse and the two corpses…