Review: ilomilo (XBLA)

UPDATE: This review has been updated with purchase information to coincide with ilomilo‘s launch today.

Now then, what can be said about ilomilo? Breaking it down to its purest form, the game is a puzzle-platformer of sorts with fantastic graphics. Expanding on such simplicities, ilomilo is a divine creation filled with the kind of quirky madness and creativity that is sorely missing on the Xbox 360 of late. I won’t hide my shameless admiration for this game nor will I cover the few flaws if does contain but in this review, I’ll do my best to explain just why I think ilomilo is a wonderful triumph.

Read on!

The experience you get when playing ilomilo is like taking a guided tour inside the mind of an eccentric artist. The first thing that hits you, or rather tickles your cheek into a smile, is the music. Southend Interactive could have put together a ragtag band kitted out with obscure instruments in order to record the soundtrack which fits beautifully with the art-style. That itself has a kind of homemade feel about it, a patchwork of materials thrown together with ironic precision. The joyful ‘bouncy’ persona of recent Mario titles is present in ilomilo‘s UI as it is in the backgrounds and sound effects. At first glance, it’s easy to draw artistic comparisons to LittleBigPlanet but doing so wouldn’t be fair on the developers. This isn’t a copy, ilomilo is a work of art in its own right.

Okay, so it looks and sounds pretty damn good but how does it play? Well, pretty damn good actually. The two main characters, Ilo (Ilona) and Milo (Milton) are dear friends who, like all BFFs, enjoy nothing more than spending time with each other. Unfortunately they keep wandering off from one another and become lost in a world where land is constructed of textured cubes that appear to float in the air. Ilo and Milo often find themselves on opposite ends  of these lands and it’s down to you to guide them back together, controlling one at a time and swapping between them with the press of the X button. But a walk in the park this isn’t because the cubes which make up the levels may have large gaps to overcome, obstacles to beat and the friends could even be walking on different faces of the cubes. Solutions for most if not all these predicaments involve using one or a combination of living cubes that have unique abilities; things like stretching to fill extended spaces or floating up and down to act as a lift or moving platform. Naturally the cubes have cheery faces and gleefully mumble as Ilo or Milo walk over them. As you progress, more of these living cubes are needed to complete a level so you have time to learn their most effective uses.

Dotted about the levels are little creatures called Safkas and collecting these mini versions of the main characters unlocks bonus levels not to mention the added longevity it adds. Never leave a Safka behind! If you can’t find them all on your first play through, try again on your second. Hidden artwork and music are also scattered throughout and drove me to explore all nooks and crannies possible.

Each level also has a plethora of memory fragments to collect. These are similar to coins in Mario or rings in Sonic but instead of gaining a life when a certain number are collected, you reveal part of a memory Ilo and Milo share. This is one of the ways ilomilo’s story, as mad as it is, is told. The game is split into four chapters with nine levels and three bonus levels to unlock in each one. The chapters have their own themes too. The first being set in a park, second is underwater and so on. Between chapters you’re told just why Ilo and Milo travel to such different zones and it’s not just for aesthetics either, oh no. For example, the underwater chapter is a result of all the tears Ilo and Milo have cried. Yeah, it’s kinda mental. But brilliant too. The story itself isn’t the deepest per se but what you come away with is a feeling of peeking into a world rich in character and life. As a level loads, you’re given a paragraph of text about one of the inhabitants, extending the fiction further. A nice replacement to a loading bar and adds that little bit more to an already endearing game.

So what are these flaws I alluded to earlier? To start, the camera can be a bit cumbersome and although there is the option to view the puzzling levels from a far you still don’t have a full range of motion to the camera which became a little annoying after a while. That and how the characters move as if on tank tracks causing a few traversal issues and making journeys a tad longer than they need to be. On the topic of length, ilomilo can be as long as you like but I wouldn’t say it’s overly challenging. A few occasions did flummox me good and proper but there’s a hint system to help those tricky situations. You can finish the game without playing through all the 53 levels on offer (four prologue, nine in each chapter with three bonuses and one final crescendo of all previous puzzle elements) so even if you wrap up the story in around three to four hours as I did, there’s still a good amount of levels left over to play plus a hidden 2D card game, ilomilo shuffle, to find too. And being a game about love and friendship, a co-op multiplayer mode is included though because of the nature of some of the puzzles, making it split screen wouldn’t have worked. Instead, players control one of the cutesy duo and wait their turn until needed. Not the best implementation of co-op but not the worst either.

If you’re initially put off by the adorable art-style, I would urge you to at least give ilomilo a try because even if it’s not the most demanding game on Xbox Live Arcade it is one of the more entertaining and deceptively deep experiences. It could have been a tad longer and harder but there is DLC confirmed so more goodness will be coming soon. The gameplay and puzzles are rewarding and relaxing in equal measures, coated in some of the best graphics and audio of any XBLA game to date. Anyone with even an ounce of imagination can’t help but wonder what life is like for the creatures in the world of ilomilo and it’s very hard to stop playing without a smile on your face.

Verdict:
Awesome
An outstanding experience that goes above and beyond expectations.

The brilliant ilomilo is available now on the Xbox Live Marketplace for 800 MS Points (£6.85/$10/€9.60).

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