|System: Xbox 360|
|Dev: Southend Interactive|
|Pub: Microsoft Game Studios|
|Release: January 5th, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Becky Cunningham
One of the great things about this generation of games is that downloadable marketplaces like Steam and Xbox Live Arcade have allowed quirky indie titles to reach more people than ever before. ilomilo is a great example of this phenomenon, a solid little puzzler with a gleefully odd aesthetic and a lot of heart.
The game's basic premise is simple. Two friends, ilo and milo, who look rather like stuffed toys who escaped from the children's section of IKEA, meet in the park every day for tea. The only problem is that the park seems to change every day, and every day the friends face new obstacles that they must overcome in order to find each other. Through short, storybook scenes, ilomilo draws the player into a dreamlike world, where ilo and milo must work both separately and together to overcome the obstacles that keep them apart.
The world of ilomilo is one of cubes, which create labyrinthine paths upon which ilo and milo must travel. The game has a misty, watercolor-style visual design that manages to support the basic gameplay. The main puzzle elements are crisp and clear, while the gigantic, bizarre background elements are hazy and usually manage not to distract from the main action. Each chapter of the game has a different theme, and the background images build a weird and compelling world filled with improbable musical instruments, strange sea monsters, and carnivals in space. The odd supporting cast is filled with personality, and the whole pastiche comes together for a satisfying visual and gameplay experience.
Unlike the praiseworthy visual design, ilomilo's sound design is a mixed bag. It fits the game's atmosphere well, with the music underscored by slide whistles, accordions, and other unusual instruments. The sound effects similarly consist of funny pings, blips, and grunts that match the visual design of the creatures and items emitting the sounds. Unfortunately, this means that both the music and sound effects can be grating to listen to, particularly when spending a long time with a difficult puzzle or when putting the game on pause. Whenever I paused the game to get up to do something, my spouse immediately grabbed the remote to mute the sound, and I ended up turning the volume down considerably after playing the game for a while. There is no voice acting in ilomilo, which is probably a blessing. There isn't much dialogue in the first place, and the game's simple narrative would easily be harmed by less-than-stellar voice acting.
The basic gameplay in ilomilo is about navigating the cubic labyrinth, using special cubic tools and creatures to overcome the obstacles separating ilo and milo from each other. Special cubes are introduced gradually throughout the game, and range from a simple cube that can be picked up and used to fill holes, to cubes that stretch, fly, rotate, or have a trapdoor that allows the character to fall through to the opposite side. Players swap between controlling ilo and milo with a button press, and will need to swap between the two frequently in order to help them come together. Although separated, the two characters will often be able to assist each other, using various methods to move cubes around and pass special cubes to each other. Because gravity doesn't work normally in this world, ilo and milo will traverse all sides of their cubic environment, and many puzzles involve experimentation with the world's unique laws of physics.
Every puzzle is complete once ilo and milo come face to face with each other, but there is more to the puzzles than simply getting from point A to point B. The game's levels are littered with collectables, and going off the main path to obtain the collectables gains the player various rewards. Easels and records add music and sound to the game's gallery, and rescuing small creatures opens up challenging bonus levels in each chapter. Invisible postcard pieces found while wandering around award "memory fragments" which tell a mysterious story of two pen pals and also unlock Xbox avatar awards. These collectables are completely optional, but add interest to the game and replay value to the puzzles.