Developer: SouthEnd Interactive
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Warning. Old argument rehashing imminent...
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve mentioned the importance of gameplay over appearance. Go back to those golden days of coin-ops, and the thumb-pummelling joys of Space Invaders, Asteroids and Missile Command. What kept you coming back for more? What kept you rattling through your pocket money? The look of the game? Of course not. It was the game play.
In the instance of Ilomilo, a surprisingly original, genuinely sweet puzzler available from XBOX Live Arcade, game play and appearance score highly. Some will gripe that there’s an uncomfortable similarity between the cutesy, felt-like surroundings of this platformer and Little Big Planet but what the hell. Game play is substantially different and you can never have too many family-pleasing, inter-generational titles frankly.
Ilo, is a little red character. Best friend Milo is blue. Every day, they like nothing better than meeting up in the park for a chat and a nice cup of apple tea. Unfortunately, every night, the park gets rearranged making their simple quest ever more difficult.
Your task, as the puzzle solver, is to take control of both characters and bring them back together. While there are occasional beasties to negotiate, there are no guns involved. Nor are there explosions, space ships, toxic gases or any of the other elements that seem to make up games these days. There’s not even a threat of death here. Mess up – and you will – and you’ll have to start the level again. That’s the only peril you’ll face and, while it’s not exactly adrenaline-inducing, it’s quite a refreshing change after a few months of Cod and Battlefield Bad Company.
Play is simple to pick up. You control either Ilo or Milo – and you’ll generally need to control both to complete each of the 48 levels – and move them around the grid / park to make them meet up. Puzzles start with relative simplicity. The learning curve gets steeper as the game progresses, although Ilo and Milo’s friend Christian lives in one of the grid’s boxes and is usually available to explain the latest developments. Most of the time though it’s trial and error as you negotiate your way through the almost palpably squidgy grid: seriously, the whole thing is so realistically fuzzy you’ll be tempted to stroke the screen.
The grid itself is suspended in zero gravity, meaning that you will frequently need to think in three dimensions to unite our titular stars, walking around the sides or under the grid to solve assorted puzzles. As you can probably imagine, certain blocks in the grid have different properties, which you’ll need to exploit in order to complete the level. Some blocks can be moved to fill in gaps. Others will extend for three spaces – horizontally AND vertically – to fill in bigger gaps, either for your immediate benefit or to help your blue (or red) chum. You may also find yourself having to pass such blocks between Ilo and Milo to complete a level.
Yet more blocks will float across gaps in the grid, provided your opposite number has pressed the relevant switch. Other blocks will catapult you across the void – sometimes when you don’t want them to, which is a little frustrating. In other cases, trapdoors will fling you to the other side of the puzzle, while other blocks contain a path-blocking monster that you will need distract with Ilo so that Milo can get past, or vice versa.
- It’s charming
- The sense of joy you’ll feel reuniting Ilo and Milo – and they’ll do a little celebratory dance – will leave you smiling goofily for hours.
- It’s a genuine head-scratcher with decent amounts of extra content – unlockable music, back stories, etc – to collect.
- Those with strong twee-meter need not apply – controllers will fly after just a few cutesy minutes
- As a two player game, the turn-based system means there’s a potential for boredom to creep in: it could be several minutes before you get to do anything, which means it’s not ideal for parents and small children.
- The controls can be rather fiddly. While that’s not usually a problem, there are levels where a misstep will see you having to reset and start again.
The Short Version: Even at 48 levels, serious puzzlers will probably rattle through the game in a matter of hours but, given the all round loveliness of the game, and the ridiculous value, that’s not much of a complaint. For most people, there are many hours of (excellent value) fun to be had here, with a well judged learning curve. Ilomilo is a refreshingly different, often very funny game that’s as sweet as it is addictive.