Reunited and It Feels So Good
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.
Camera control is a common bugaboo for 3D games, especially games like ilomilo that involve frequent changes of perspective. Thus, I’m pleased to report that ilomilo’s camera is quite good, allowing full rotational control and a zoom button that gives a full view of the level, although more precise zoom control might have been helpful. The camera is centered on the currently-controlled character, and the game pierces a hole in any objects that directly obscure the character, which helps keep the player from getting lost. It’s a seamless system that supports the gameplay well, with little to no wrestling with camera angles. The frequent perspective changes, however, can be literally dizzying, which could be a problem for some players.
Otherwise, ilomilo is simple and intuitive to control, fostering the feeling of creative experimentation and exploration that pervades the game. It is easy to pick up and use the special cubes, and markings on the paths suggest good locations for special cube placement. The solutions to many puzzles involve that satisfying moment when something just “clicks,” and the player realizes that there’s a new or different way to use the tools at hand. This varied puzzle design generally keeps the game from feeling stale, although some levels are similar, especially in the first chapter of the game.
A basic playthrough of ilomilo can be completed in five to ten hours, but there is enough content to keep players busy for some time. The puzzles can be challenging, but the game is rarely frustrating due to several factors. There is a hint available for every puzzle, and only six out of nine puzzles in every chapter need to be solved in order to move on to the next chapter. Most players should be able to advance to the game’s final chapter, and experienced puzzle gamers will find plenty of challenge in the unlockable bonus levels. While it’s possible to become stuck and need to restart a level, it’s not a frequent problem, and as more kinds of cubes are revealed, the better levels feel like playgrounds where experimentation is encouraged. Bugs are also quite rare, and I never encountered anything game-breaking, though some of my more inventive experiments produced minor visual glitches.
Along with its collectables, ilomilo extends gameplay with a local co-op mode, which allows players to solve the puzzles together. Co-op players must take turns controlling the two characters, and can leave pointers to help each other know where to go next. It’s not terribly exciting, but could be fun for couples or for parents playing with children. There’s also an unlockable 2D arcade minigame called ilomilo shuffle, and bonus costumes for ilo and milo which can be unlocked if the player owns Raskulls or A World of Kelflings , two other featured Xbox Live Arcade games. Finally, there will be a DLC pack called “autumn tale” released for the game in the future, which will include two new chapters to play through.
Overall, the appealing visuals and solid gameplay design in ilomilo make it appealing for a wide variety of gamers. While it lacks the sheer addictiveness of the greatest puzzle games, it has a lot of heart, many well-designed puzzles, and a passel of optional activities to keep players interested. It’s a solid entry in the Xbox Live Arcade lineup, and is recommended for anybody who enjoys puzzle games.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Featuring an appealing visual design and a solid dash of weirdness, ilomilo’s graphics create an appropriately dreamlike world for its gravity-defying puzzles. 4.0 Control
ilomilo is simple and intuitive to control, introducing new puzzle elements gradually (perhaps too gradually for some). The camera is good and rarely hinders gameplay. 2.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound design fits the game’s atmosphere well, but the music pieces are very repetitive and both the music and sound effects can be grating, especially over long periods. 3.9 Play Value
Like most Xbox Live Arcade games, ilomilo isn’t terribly long, but collectables and unlockable bonus puzzles add a good deal of replay value. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|