Inspiration is the key, and the killer.
Limbo is one of the most atmospheric, and haunting games I have ever played on my Playstation 3. It was an exhausting experience because the child protagonist kept dying gruesome deaths without me understanding why. Everything was drowned in a shroud of mystery, and especially the longer walks without any obstacles led me to question why this child was forced to walk to his death. Anyone faced with the first spider enemy know how futile it felt, and how horrible the death was being impaled like a cherry tomato on a barbecue skewer. Any game taking Limbo as a primary inspiration has to really perform in story telling, realistic controls and setting a dark mood. Some games have taken some inspiration, but then gone down an own path. On iOS Nihilumbra is an excellent example of a highly emotional platformer with an own personality. Another example of a game that took hints from the presentation in Limbo, and then combined it with the agility of Super Mario is one of my personal favorite platformers: The Adventures of Kitty, Run Kitty Run.
So why this long paragraph about how a game can be inspired by a classic, and then develop into a unique game that has it’s own merits? The answer is that LAD has taken inspiration too literally, and most effort seems to be focused on copying the style and graphics from Limbo. I have been following the development process with great anticipation. The screenshots have all looked marvelous. Now I sit here writing a review, and I still think the screenshots look awesome. It is when the game starts moving the issues ensue.
For one the level design is not that interesting, or rather downright boring. There is a lot of pushing inanimate boxes around. Initially levels are all about getting to an exit, but it is never clear why, or how the worlds are interconnected. The story develops slowly, and there is actually some interesting aspects to it. Given how boring some levels are, and especially when I have to replay them when I have messed up a box puzzle it is not enough. Combining story with inane levels brings the entire thing down. I would rather have just the puzzles, or the story and the most interesting puzzles.
Our hero, the LAD, seems to have grease under his feet. He controls poorly, and tends to glide after each step. Jumping is probably one of the most annoying aspects of the entire game. LAD uses the quite common control scheme where you touch the left side of the screen to move left, and right to move right. If you hold the right side, and simultaneously touch the left LAD jumps. Touch twice, and he performs a double jump. Sounds easy, and it is in a lot of games such as the Shift series. In LAD however jumping is a spastic highly hard to predict action. Trying to jump the slightest height takes a lot of retries, and often LAD can perform really weird triple jumps. Even worse is the fact that if you take a running start to perform a longer jump LAD stops if there is another object used as surface. Placing a couple of boxes to make the stretch longer means that he simply won’t jump at all.
The presentation is great, but by no means perfect. Too often I end up dying without seeing the nasty spikes sticking out of the ground. In Limbo death was always expected, but in LAD it is rather a surprise when it strikes. Standing still the game looks really great, and the soundtrack enhance the bleakness. At times I really think this is a Limbo for iOS, but then I touch the screen to start playing and I remember that this is LAD.
LAD is a perfect example of a game that has been going astray during development. I doubt the developer sat in front of a large screen playing Limbo when the idea to create LAD arose. At least that is what I hope. I rather think that during development someone pointed out that this might become a Limbo for iOS. At that time it seems creativity went out the window, and we ended up with level design and controls completely subpar. A shame, as LAD could probably have been a much more interesting game than “that game that looks like Limbo”, which it is now.
LAD $1.99 iPhone/iPod version
Seller:Keith Curtis / Black Chair Games
LAD HD $1.99 iPad only