If there’s one thing you can say about the gaming industry these days, it’s that sometimes it feels like we’re playing more of the same year after year. The most anticipated titles are usually retreads, remakes, and sequels of games already played before, only with MORE, BIGGER, BETTER. It’s a problem that plagues the industry, though it doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon; hell, even mediocre games are rewarded with sequels these days.
So while it may be too much to ask for originality in major releases sometimes, at least there are still Xbox Live Arcade and other downloadable services, comprising a distribution model that still offers quality games in mid-January while retail stores offer nothing but crap. It feels these days that the best way to find consistently original games is on these small distribution sites, and the first game released this year on Xbox Live Arcade was ilomilo, a seemingly simplistic yet challenging platform puzzler overloaded with cuteness.
Created by the Swedish development team at SouthEnd Interactive (previously known for the 2009 XBLA remake of Lode Runner), the premise of ilomilo is simple: presented as though it were designed for a children’s book, the player must unite best friends ilo and milo throughout each level, who meet every day for snacks and tea and dance when reunited. However, every time they try to meet up, their path is different. The player must then navigate the terrain in order to join up ilo and milo and thus complete the level.
Players can easily switch between ilo and milo using the X button, which is often crucial to solving a puzzle. Neither ilo or milo are able to jump, leap, or grab onto ledges, so players must utilize different objects in order for the two to connect. This includes using boxes that elongate, include trap doors, and even float. Players also encounter different obstacles on each level, including monsters that eat cubes and block your path.
Difficulty usually sets in when players must walk along ramps that shift the player’s perspective on the platform. The game forces the player to utilize additional spatial thinking, which, paired with the numerous blocks the players must use to navigate obstacles, can complicate the levels further. In fact, when you’re usually set up against an increasingly frustrating puzzle, sometimes the best strategy comes from taking a step back and rethinking the way the puzzle was presented. Oftentimes I found the solution to a complex puzzle to be far simpler than I first thought. Whether it takes looking at the problem from a different angle or utilizing the correct block, the solution is usually easier than it seems.
Camera movement is limited throughout the courses, though players are given a little control. Players are able to zoom in on their character or zoom out to view the entire course, which proves essential when faced with particularly complex problems. Players are able to inch the camera around to try to get better angles, though for the most part camera movement is controlled. Players are also able to find either ilo or milo in the level with the push of a button, which opens up a small circular window clearing through nearby obstacles.
Each level is also outfitted with numerous collectibles and Easter eggs for players to find. You can find three Safkas, which look like little versions of ilo and milo, in each level. Collect enough Safkas throughout each stage and you can unlock bonus stages for each world. Players can also pick up items that unlock memories of a reminiscing couple, with each piece unlocking a part of their tale. Players can also collect other collectibles, including game artwork and music tracks.
Though the game is challenging at times, the game’s entire run through is relatively short. There are about 4 world stages with 12 levels (including 3 bonus levels) total, though I would not be surprised if there was some DLC down the way. The levels do open themselves up for easy replay-ability if you wanted to try to complete each level entirely or just play through with a friend. The game is presently priced at 800 MSP, and while that may seem steep for some, I definitely felt like I got my money’s worth out of it. The game offers a steep learning curve, and some levels were just outright frustrating.
Despite the game’s short length and erratic difficulty at times, ilomilo is just downright charming. From the game’s storybook visuals to its infectious music (seriously, just try not to love the music), ilomilo offers something different and unique from most XBLA titles. The developers at SouthEnd Interactive created a strategy game that offers a child-like presentation that will increasingly challenge the sharpest of minds.