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Monthly Archives: January 2011

ilomilo | Review

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.

9 /10

Windows Phone 7 | Round-up #2

Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk

Fruit Ninja

One of the ways to create a good arcade game is to take a simple mechanic and fashion it into a series of challenges that are so addictive your audience can’t help themselves as they know they can do better next time. This sums Fruit Ninja up perfectly.

There’s no fluffy backstory here: ninjas hate fruit. Simple. And using your finger-come-katana your destiny is to slice and swipe those smug nutritious bastards into oblivion as your sensei throws swathes of the vile foodstuff at you.

A single swish of your finger will cut the pears, apples and pineapples in two as they fly through the air. With each terminated fruit your score tots up, with combos possible for getting multiple fruit at once. The idea of such foolishness may sound incredibly easy but in amongst the fruit are bombs to test your mettle.

There is no more to it other than flicking your finger across the screen, but somehow it works. The colourful presentation and very silly achievements – “Got a critical hit with a Mango!” – all join together to provide a game that may not have longevity but definitely harbours that “just one more go” mentality.

7/10

Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst

Oh how this Crackdown 2 tie-in causes conflict in my own head! On one hand it is an average, lightweight tower defence game; on the other it showcases what can be done when mobile games take advantage of the full suite of services available to them on a smart phone.

It seems the freaks and Cell are not content with troubling just Pacific City, and the world at large is under threat from their influence. Using Bing maps, you place bases anywhere on the planet, be it your house, school, or favourite North London Premiership football ground, from where you must repel the tide of nasties creeping your way.

Rather than facing waves, as is standard with most traditional tower defence titles, the local area will be always teeming with freaks to dispatch. As such, a perimeter quickly needs to be established that will stand up to constant assault. Flame throwers and machine gun turrets will see you through but immediate threats must be balanced against the odd Cell gun truck and protecting civilian vehicles. These longer range targets both cleverly use Bing’s road knowledge to seek the destruction of/salvation in your hideout.

As a concept I find it incredibly intriguing, as setting up networks of bases across the country will gain you bonuses, and logging in whilst you physically move about will also earn you rewards as the phone’s GPS notices that you’ve been on your travels. Even the very basic idea of being able to setup bases in areas that you intimately know elevates a simple idea into something a little more personable.

The trade-off with such customisable surroundings is that a great deal of the challenge associated with the genre fades. There is no carefully scripted and balanced difficulty curve, as freaks could be invading anything from a bustling metropolis to a farm house hidden down a single-track approach. As such, your experience will differ wildly and the mostly automated nature of the guns means much can be achieved with very little input.

Still, even if it feels more of a military management game, I cannot deny that I keep wanting to pop back and check how the fortifications around my wife’s gran’s house are holding up. It has an allure, much like Farmvilles of this world, that will see you playing for snatches of time here and there but never for extended periods.

6/10

Revolution

There’s no Professor Layton mind bending or coloured gems here, Revolution puzzles are all about cogs. Each of its 75 levels grants you access to what appears to be a blueprint for a watch, all with a number of toothed wheels sitting obstinately still and awaiting your attention. Using a supply of spare cogs the challenge is to then mesh them together in such a way that all the cogs are connected and spinning.

Early doors the puzzles present little challenge and can be completed without too much hassle. Progress past the first dozen or so however and a delightful set of brain teasers will welcome you.
Every stage can be broken down logically, but the varying sizes of cogs, the corners they can poke themselves into, and the limited space all amount to an incredibly satisfying workout for the old grey matter. If I may be so bold, it gets one’s own cogs whirring.

Beyond completing each stage, there are awards for speedy completion and success in the fewest possible moves. Though welcome additions, these features will only appeal to the completionists as it’s the initial solution that proves the most rewarding aspect of Revolution.

Put plainly: one of the purest puzzle games I have played in a long while.

8/10