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‘Limbo’ leads new Microsoft downloadables for Xbox

Microsoft has rolled out its “Xbox Live Summer of Arcade” each of the past three years to showcase some high quality downloadable games.

Some of the better games over the past three years — “Braid,” “Castle Crashers,” “Trials HD” and “Shadow Complex” — have been a part of the “Summer of Arcade.”

This year’s version has promise, with a slate of five games that includes a “Castlevania” game, an update from the arcade favorite “Hydro Thunder” series and a new “Tomb Raider” adventure. The first of five consecutive weeks of releases began Wednesday, with the idea that helps tide gamers over during the usual summer lull. Each game costs 1200 Microsoft Points, or $15.

I haven’t played all five of the releases, but I can’t imagine any will be better than “Limbo.”

Released Wednesday to kick off the series, “Limbo” is the best downloadable game I’ve played yet. I thought “Braid” was one of the top 10 games released in 2008, and “Limbo” is better than that title.

“Limbo” is an extremely simple game. There is no dialogue, no on-screen instructions, no health meter and no load screens.

The gamer controls a boy who awakens in a bleak, black, white and gray world. You are given no background. The only option is to move forward. The boy can only jump and run, and he uses those two skills to navigate the platforming world of limbo.

The game plays like an old 2D platformer. The boy uses vines, ropes and other objects to get around.

Plenty of challenges and puzzles — some very difficult — await the boy and his journey through “Limbo.”

Despite the simple design, the noir art style adds plenty to the game. Shadows and darkness keep impending doom hidden until the last second. You won’t see that giant spider leg until it’s too late. Sound is used sparingly but effectively to also hide potential dangers until right before they strike.

You will die often in this game. It’s a trial-by-death kind of affair. Those kind of games are sometimes annoying, but this one allows you to respawn immediately. Some of the deaths are very gruesome, so beware while playing with children.

The pacing of the game is amazing. With no load screens, it feels like a long, seamless journey. The story isn’t overly long, although at a fourth of the price of a full game, you wouldn’t expect it to last much more than five hours.

No matter how long it takes to play “Limbo,” you’ll enjoy every second of it.

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