ilomilo (XBLA) Review
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: SouthEnd Interactive
Rated: E for Everyone
The earliest released game out of the three Games of Winter, ilomilo was actually availably through a “hidden” download from SouthEnd Interactive’s website. So, I had already played it before getting my hands on the full version, but still didn’t expect such a challenging puzzler from this game.
Like most puzzle games, the premise is simple. You have to reunite ilo and milo, who normally start on opposite ends of the level and on opposite fields of gravity. However, unlike most traditional puzzle games, this one actually has a decent story to go along with it.
Each chapter tells a bit more of the story behind the chapter you’re going to, along with giving more details about ilo and milo. While this seems like a good overall story, by collecting memory fragments, you can get a glimpse into the deeper story about Ilona and Milton, two people that spent their younger years together but, as they grew older, started remembering the past and wanting to see each other. The memory fragments really give an insight into a much deeper story that starkly contrasts the lighthearted and cute nature of the game, but adds so much more to the game overall.
Speaking of the cute nature of the game, it really is cute. I’m talking almost the LittleBigPlanet level of cute. All the blocks and ilo and milo are made with fabrics, and the short cut scenes between chapters are actually photos of the characters and settings that SouthEnd Interactive made in real life. Personally, after seeing the ilo and milo that were crafted, I actually want a pair of them for my house to display. Overall, the graphics are top notch, though, and really show how great an Arcade title can look if a bit of time is put into the design.
Getting back to the gameplay, you have to reunite the two by traversing blocks, collecting Safkas, records and photos along the way. The Safkas, of which there are three, can open up three bonus levels in each chapter, while the records and photos unlock bonus music or images to view. You can switch between ilo and milo to have one hit a switch or move something to the other so they can continue on. You can also hit B to have them wave to each other, showing you where the other is in the level.
The pair can walk along the blocks, some of which have carpets that will change the position of the world to walk along a new plane. You have to use this to your advantage to get to new areas, but can sometimes get confused when it’s done often, throwing your sense of what is up and down off.
Speaking of throwing your senses off, some of the spinning levels really do that. They have the blocks rotate seamlessly, and you can quickly realize that the same path of blocks you’ve been walking on is now turned 90 or 180 degrees in one direction. Trying to keep a perfect location on the other character while doing this can become quite difficult, but thankfully the B button can help solve that problem.
To help get to the other character, certain blocks can be picked up, moved around in place. These blocks range from standard ones, to ones that can stretch horizontally and vertically, to trapdoor ones that flip the planes, to twisting ones and even floating ones. Each chapter usually introduces one to two new blocks, and has you using them in combination with other blocks almost immediately. When the blocks are introduced, Sebastian is usually nearby to help give you pointers on how they can be used. Sebastian lives in a block himself, and usually gives some good advice, along with some commentary from time to time.
In addition to the blocks you can pick up, there are other blocks built into the level that can help or hind you. There’s a living block that eats apples in your way that you can ride on top of, but there’s also blocks that can block your progress as you get near it, and blocks that can take the block you’re carrying and spit it back where you came from.
This is where using the other character comes into play. Sometimes, you have to block your progress one direction to let the other character advance to you, or have to change the cat’s path with blocks to carry your other character to a new location. It always challenges you, and you feel rewarded when you can finally move on.
Like I said above, each level has three bonus levels you can unlock by collecting every Safka. One level has ilo and milo be digitized, while the other has Sebastian telling a bit of the story of “The Hunter and the Fox.” The final bonus level normally has character appear from other indie games, such as World of Goo and Super Meat Boy, which Sebastian usually makes a comment on.
There’s also local multiplayer for two friends to control both ilo and milo to try to meet up with each other. It can make the game go a bit smoother, as you do not have to constantly switch back and forth. During the multiplayer there are also eggs you can collect as well. Like many other Arcade games that have come out recently, I wish it would have had online multiplayer too, but it’s a small complaint.
Each chapter has 12 levels (counting the bonus) you can play, along with the final level. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a mini-game you can unlock called Shuffle, which has you controlling both ilo and milo simultaneously trying to get the most points by collecting memory fragments and Safkas. While doing that, though, the world is constantly shuffling, making the last block in whatever direction it moves fall off. It’s a quick diversion that can quickly turn into trying to plan which way to move to prevent the pair from falling off in any direction.
Finally, I want to hit on the cross-game bonuses and sound. By having the other two games from the Games for the Holidays promotion, you can unlock new skins for ilo and milo. However, I honestly found their regular skin looked too good to change, plus you had to change the skin back after every level.
The sound in the game is just as lighthearted as the rest of the game is, and each level ends with a short jingle that the pair dances too. On top of this, you get a short trumpet and drum fanfare for collecting secrets, and even get an Achievement for keeping the right beat with the solo on the game’s main menu. The sound really compliments the graphics, and gives the game that much more personality.
Besides Limbo, ilomilo offers one of the best puzzle challenges that the Xbox Live Arcade has seen recently. The concept may be simple, but many puzzles will leave you scratching your head at how to solve them, but leave you feeling rewarded after beating them. Plus, the game offers a good story that will get you thinking. A great ending to the Games for the Holidays seasonal special.