Ilomilo: A sense of direction

Ilomilo might just be the cleverest puzzle-platformer I have played this year, and I’ve only played the trial for the game. You’ve probably never heard of it, never even seen it mentioned, it was only announced a few weeks ago and was generally a secret for a long while. The developers and Microsoft chose a strategy I don’t think I’ve ever seen. There little secret gem of a game was made even more secret, not even being formally released on Xbox Live Arcade. Instead, you have to go to a separate website to snag your trial code, it’s a little odd to do this when your game is already under the radar. In fact, in terms of under the radar, it is nowhere near the radar. I haven’t seen reviews, previews or heard anything about it. Perhaps it’s living and breathing pure indie, and it reaches new heights of oddity when I look around for who the developers are. Of all the developers in the world I can think of, it has to be SouthEnd Interactive who are behind ilomilo. The same studio who developed the incredible first-person shooter XIII which still remains one of my all time favourite FPSs.

The game operates in that it combines an assortment of delicious mechanics. For starters, you can only move on top of cubes, in this whimsical art style. You can pick up some set blocks and put them down on top of blocks or to build bridges with across gaps. There are blocks that extend to three blocks when you put them down, there are blocks that act as trapdoors which switch gravity all around. It’s all a very overwhelming experience and there are just a few clever little hints of design that just make it all the more better. For instance, normally in a third-person game when your character is hidden behind a wall you have to rotate the camera. I hear this is a problem that Epic Mickey falls into. Instead in ilomilo a little magnifying glass pops up so you can see through walls and guide your little dude.

The basic objective is to brofist your partner, and (I think) you either play as ‘ilo’ or ‘milo’ and they’re best buddies. There’s a few hints to something wider and deeper, in my opinion, as you have to collect fragments of ‘memories’. The game goes from a simple puzzler into this broad and fresh experience that really does tackle your brain, not since Portal have I seen a game tackle simple mechanics such as ‘button makes something happen’ and put a whole new twist on them. I haven’t played co-operative mode yet but thank god it exists, I am pretty sure the game will require navigation further into its twisting puzzles. As you can see from the screen-shot above and the video below, the game is absolutely rich and beautiful and it embodies a patchwork aesthetic similar to the likes of Littlebigplanet, but it looks all the more cuter.

So that’s what I love about ilomilo, and I’m still not totally 100% whether it belongs on my game of the year contenders list. There’s a few little bits and bats that I don’t like, such as LB and RB controlling the main camera. But sometimes, it just doesn’t work and I can’t see what the ruddy hell is going on. In a sense it doesn’t fall as deep into the chasm of camera death like Epic Mickey does, but it’s still minor little annoyances around an amazing core of pure delight. Buttons, placing blocks, changing gravity, twisting gravity – all sounds like simple mechanics and yet they make absolute gold. This year is certainly the comeback for the puzzler-platformer with the likes of VVVVVV, Super Meat Boy, ilomilo and Give Up, Robot 2… I guess Limbo as well.

So, what is the thing I have to critique? If it’s one thing that annoys me in games it’s when my control is taken away from me momentarily, it makes such a bigger impact because I can settle into a cut-scene but it breaks the flow if it’s only for a second. So what I’ll do in ilomilo is hold B down to see where my friend is, and both characters are cute as hell and give little waves to each other. Unfortunately, whenever you wander over one of the tutorial blocks (a guy called Sebastian flies out of a plane and teaches you the ropes… what?) you have to wait to skip it. Once you’ve even gone through the tutorial, you have to keep waiting seconds and it all just drives me mad.

Whenever you fail in a puzzle game, it’s more or less because you’ve got trapped and the mechanics won’t allow your escape. Portal seemed to have little visual cues to guide the player, Super Meat Boy had a indication of where the player had to go by not making the levels so huge, VVVVVV had a mini-map and Limbo was all about going right and the puzzles all fitted into one screen. The elements of ilomilo aren’t clear, visually, it’s hard to tell between one cute looking block and another cute block which one extends and which doesn’t. Even more of a complaint is on the last trial level when I collected all that I had to get and then got stuck and having to retrace my steps only to find that it was a one-way part of the puzzle, and had to restart it all over again.

Apart from little niggles, you probably need to just drop what you’re doing right now and play this. I’ve tried giving little critiques, but I honestly can’t think of anything massively wrong with the game other than losing it’s sense of direction. It’s an important critique of any puzzler game, but I don’t think it’s a massive fault of ilomilo, it’s still one of the finest Xbox Live Arcade titles and it’s definitely worth a gander. I imagine it’ll actually appear on the Game Marketplace in the next few days, but until then, use the trial code redeem site to get your trial code. to get your trial code.


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