Dear readers, would you believe that darkness can actually bring lots of joy and fun? This is certainly true for dark-themed computer games that require logic and wits, as you get more concentrated and the whole experience feels much more personal. Let's have a look at some 2D platform games that fall into the category: Limbo, Closure and NightSky – and try to figure out what it is that makes them so different in the impression they leave you with.
You may have heard about the “dramatic” style of this game: it is dark, has simple graphics, uses just two colors (well, actually, more than two, but those are all shades of black), and aims for creating some kind of mysterious atmosphere. The most impressive element that works to that effect is probably the boy's eyes, as those are constantly perceived as the brightest things in the game world. It is easy to assume that Limbo is daunting and un-fun, but this is actually very untrue. It's not totally innocent, of course: it is indeed somewhat somber, especially when you also take the music into account – but it is build around a very engaging and uplifting story. You are trying to save your sister, working your way through numerous obstacles – doesn't it feel nice to be a hero?
Speaking about music, the game is actually rather silent for the most part; but there are surrounding sounds and noises, which sort of make this game stick to your mind with the endless rustle of leaves, footsteps, hisses and so on. But this is all just a taster: there actually is some very beautiful music in the game, it's just saved for more dramatic moments.
In case you still consider the atmosphere of Limbo too gloomy, try out Closure. These two obviously have something in common (the color palette, for one), but they are totally different in most aspects. Most notably, Closure feels more optimistic: it is built around the concept of light, your interaction with it and light affecting you. The key principle to remember is this: if you see it, it exists; and if you see nothing, there is nothing. This includes the various machinery, the walls and the floor.
The main source of the atmosphere in this game is music and sound design. There is a lot of music in here, interlaced with natural sounds like water splashes. Compared with Limbo, the game screams with sounds, but it feels very natural and not overdone at all. Closure loses much of its charm if it's played muted.
In Closure you feel yourself more of an explorer, rather than someone who simply follows the path laid out before them. The game requires much more careful thinking than Limbo, which really pays off when actually finish it (or even when you beat a level). Try it out and you will see what I'm talking about. Solving logic puzzles while carrying a small orb to light your way does keep your nerves in tension.
NightSky deserves to be called the most optimistic of the three. It has more colors than black and white and is quite varied in terms of the environments you're running through. It also involves more physics than the other two: the crystal sphere you're controlling feels like it has weight and proper inertia, and the puzzles are often designed around this fact. There are no monsters, just you, the ball and the obstacle course you've got to pass.
It's done in Nicklas Nygren's trademark silhouettes-on-gradients minimalist style, without any characters to interact with, so it may look somewhat sombre (similarly to Limbo and Closure); but actually its darkness is not oppressive at all. I would rather call it pensive, especially since you also have differently colored backgrounds to set the mood.
The sounds and the music contribute to the serene atmosphere a great lot, too. The music is very gentle, with each level having a distinct tune to it (and a distinct sound design on the whole), and they all sound somewhat otherworldly, which makes perfect sense within the game's world. You are always left in high spirits, no matter how much time you spend in the game.
Dark can be for the Good
Even though all these games are done in dark colors, they all have different moods about them: Limbo being of melancholic nature, Closure a bit surreal, and NightSky carrying a hint of romance. This difference in the atmosphere works for good: expecting something very familiar, each time you experience new things, which means that you always get emotionally involved in the puzzles and the process of solving them. Which, in return, makes the overall experience very colorful.
Picture credit: Steam.