Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk
When I originally saw ilomilo I dismissed the Xbox platform it claimed to be heading to as a typo. Something that lovely doesn’t end up on Xbox Live Arcade; it didn’t look like something Microsoft would snap up for its downloadable platform, looking far more suited to PSN or WiiWare. With its soft edges and adorable characters it looked a million miles away from the Braids, Limbos and Trials HDs of the world.
But arrive it did and I would like to reach out and hug the MS executive who signed this beauty up. It instils that sort of feeling in you.
ilo and milo are friends. Friends who like to share quality time together over tea and biscuits; each day they cross the park which separates their homes and meet up for a cup of char. Somehow, however, their park twists and shifts whilst they’re apart, forming a somewhat labyrinthine construct. Bad luck for them, rather fortunate for you and I.
In this puzzle-platformer, there’s no shortcut jumping or enemies to block your path, just a simple problem of getting from A to B. Or rather moving i to m. What does hamper your journey are missing gaps, moving walkways, square swines, and a sense of orientation that would make Escher seek sanctuary with a quiet lie down in a darkened room.
The core concept of ilomilo harnesses on their inability to jump up or fall down levels. All they can do is walk serenely from one cube to another and by means of changing facings or finding moving blocks that will move them up and down, navigate their way around the level.
Things are tricky enough with chasms to cross and heights to scale, but the ability for ilo and milo to walk on different faces of the same cube causes its fair share of difficulties as your head attempts to wrap itself around just what exactly is going on. To get the pair so close but so far away can cause you to whimper at the thought of the friends being so close but oh so far apart. Especially on more complex and weaving stages, the disorientation it can cause can be vast.
Half the challenge is being able to untangle a route through the many sided maze presented to you, with the other half being that of overcoming the obstacles that line the route. More often than not, one of the pair of plushies may need to drop an extra cube in a gap so they can reach the other side, but as their adventure progresses teamwork between the two is called on more and more. Be it activating a switch with one that triggers a new route for the other; holding down barricades with ilo whilst milo sneaks through unperturbed; or using the gravity defying makeup of the world to pass bridging blocks to one another. Being able to think at right-angles helps, quite literally.
The lovely approach taken by Southend Interactive is one of discovery. Some of the core ideals of their creation may be laid out for you early on, but towards the latter half you are expected to stand on your own two feet. Solutions that might not necessarily seem obvious are there as you only start combining the principles already spoon-fed to you. You might not have been told you ride on the back of an apple-crazed pig, but, hey, you’re only young once. Just give it a try.
Of course, some may reach a stage where the lack of signposted solutions cause frustration. That does seem somewhat at odds with the extremely plush surroundings, but that would be because the quilted exterior of ilomilo hides a puzzle game that offers just as much in challenge as it does in cuteness.
That’s not to say the art style, or indeed leading characters, detract from the challenge at hand. If anything the adorable pairing you’re working towards reuniting add far more than I first imagined. ilomilo is not too dissimilar to Puzzle Dimension, but between the charm on show and the extra element added by the “co-op” gameplay I have a new favourite way of corrupting my sense of which way “up” is.