It is immediately evident that Cococucumber’s Planet of the Eyes is indebted to the success of Limbo. The cold open, the parallax art style, and the first puzzle involving a runaway boulder, are all indisputably intended to conjure comparisons to Playdead’s pivotal release. What isn’t as apparent from the beginning, though, is that Planet of the Eyes is not a response but a reflection; the other side of Limbo’s macabre coin, only fully recognizable when both are placed in context with one another.
In all matters concerning play, Planet of the Eyes is a direct replication of Limbo’s death-obsessed puzzle platforming. Movement is weighty and momentum driven, with shallow jumps and harrowing ledge grabs giving way to a feeling of intense gravity and powerlessness. The fragility of Limbo’s protagonist is also echoed in Planet of the Eyes through how relentlessly the environment attempts to kill you (and often succeeds at doing so in brutal fashion). Here, however, is where Planet of the Eyes began to feel odd, the reproduction showing flaws and dissimilarities that couldn’t be accounted for when viewing it as directly analogous to Limbo.
Limbo, at its more fundamental level, is about death. Death is everywhere, a horrific inevitability that can be circumvented for a time but is ultimately circulatory and perpetual. Progress can often only be made through death, as many obstacles are impossible to perceive until they have taken your life at least once. Even to the end, Limbo makes no illusions to hope or even relief through death’s finality. In Limbo, you live to die, a cycle with no branches or purpose. It is aggressively bleak, and the horrors inflicted upon its young boy protagonist unrelenting.
Planet of the Eyes, for as much as it mirror’s Limbo’s mechanics, is wholly antithetical to that game’s hopelessness. Death is still prevalent and unpredictable, but Planet of the Eyes doesn’t fixate or even really recognize it has occurred. The narration doesn’t stop, the upbeat techno soundtrack keeps playing, and the marvelous alien colors become no less vibrant. This may seem a small distinction, perhaps even an excusable oversight, but there is an inherent optimism throughout Planet of the Eyes which seems to affirm its contrasts with Limbo are intentional. You are not Dante descending into the Hell, but Indiana Jones marveling at a lost civilization. Planet of the Eyes is meant to be beautiful and enthralling, wondrous in its peculiarities and otherworldliness as deadly as it is captivating.
Planet of the Eyes even begins to recognize its tonal divergence from Limbo in its final act, in which the narrator effectively states outright what has been implied up to that point. I would argue against such an overt sub-textual acknowledgment, but given the video game industry’s tendency toward surface comparisons and generalizations, it almost feels necessary that Planet of the Eyes make plain that it is not attempting to repeat Limbo but deconstruct and invert its themes. It is not uncommon for games to take cues from the successes of others, but these often take the form of gameplay conventions or genre choice. It is much rarer to see a game like Planet of the Eyes, which rather than try to usurp its inspiration by recreating it wholesale, finds a way to meaningfully alter its thematic framework and in doing so turn the experience and our understanding of it on its head.
"Quick Thoughts" is a place for micro criticism, abstract musings, and shameless showcasing for games which either don't fit into a full review or I am not yet ready to talk about to that extent, essentially acting as a concise running commentary on whatever I'm currently playing and my thoughts thereof.