Review: ilomilo

ilomilo is an adorable puzzle game for Windows Phone 7 and Xbox Live Arcade from Swedish developer SouthEnd Interactive, who seems to be capitalizationally challenged, but is there more to this game than just good looks?

ilomilo launched earlier this month for Windows Phone 7, and while the Xbox Live Arcade version still doesn’t have an official launch date, users who are in the know can find a code to download the trial on a super secret website.  As with all Xbox Live Arcade games, once a user has downloaded the trial it is possible to purchase the full version from within the game itself.

ilomilo is a game about friendship.  The player controls the two protagonists, ilo and milo (pronounced ee-low and mee-low), who are constantly separated and want only to find their way back to each other.  This generally involves traversing collections of cubes floating in space, arranged in convoluted ways, the goal being to bring the two friends together however possible.

The first thing that will jump out at anyone who boots up the game will be its unique and inviting visual style.  Levels are bright and colorful, and there’s a surprising amount of detail in what is essentially a collection of cubes.  The backgrounds are abstract, often hinting at real objects such as trees or fish, but seldom representing them in any kind of realistic way.  Character design is similarly abstract, with only the tutorial-guide Sebastian bearing any resemblance to a real creature (he looks vaguely human).  Add in some upbeat music and what you have is a full sensory package with a lot of charm and personality.

ilomilo is not a visually homogeneous game, however.  The game is divided into four chapters, and each chapter has a different theme; summer day, underwater, late afternoon, and night.  All are beautiful in their own right, with no part seeming any less carefully crafted than any other.

The level design holds up as well.  The early levels may be a bit too easy to solve, but overall there’s a very nice difficulty curve that keeps the player challenged yet is rarely frustrating.  ilomilo presents the player with a variety of tools for navigating the environment, ranging from red carpets that let ilo and milo move from one side of a cube to another (gravity? what’s that?) and flying blocks that work like elevators, to expandable bridges and moving man-dog blocks, and new blocks are introduced with each chapter.

SouthEnd proves adept at using all of these tools they’ve made for themselves to create satisfying and challenging puzzles, forcing the player to use all the different blocks in creative ways.  The ways they had different pieces of the game interacting in the last level specifically had me wishing the game had come with a level editor, because it truly showed what was possible with just a few basic blocks put together in interesting ways.

In addition to singleplayer, the game also has a local cooperative mode.  It is essentially the same as the singleplayer game, except instead of one player alternating between ilo and milo, each player controls one of the two, taking turns.  The mode is surprisingly fun considering it’s not really any different from the singleplayer, and is perfect for playing with that significant other who isn’t really into gaming.  It is too bad, however, that SouthEnd didn’t see fit to include Xbox Live multiplayer.

Beyond just the puzzles themselves, ilomilo also includes some extras to increase replay value, such as leaderboards, collectibles to unlock art and bonus levels, and unlockable memories.  For the leaderboards each level is scored based on how many blocks the player had to cross before ilo and milo finally met each other; the fewer steps the better. It can be surprisingly fun playing the same level over again to try to do it just a little more efficiently.  Also included is an unlockable mini game called ilomilo shuffle, which is an 8-bit version of ilomilo in which the player tries to pick up objects to gain points while keeping ilo and milo from falling off a moving board.  While all of these extras are entirely optional, they do provide extra incentive to go back and replay levels that have already been cleared.

Sadly, that incentive is necessary, because ilomilo is a fairly short game.  While I haven’t yet beaten every level in the game, I completed the enough to finish the “campaign” and see the end credits in just over 5 hours.  I do intend to go back and beat the levels I skipped and gather the collectibles I missed, but it still seems like there could have been more content here.  SouthEnd does have plans to release two more chapters, called autumn tale, but those are predicted to cost an additional 400 Microsoft Points on top of the 800 ilomilo itself already cost.  autumn tale is also visible in the singleplayer menu, which is aggravating as it took me a good chunk of time trying to figure out how to unlock it before I discovered that it’s not actually available yet.  I also encountered two crashes while playing, both times while trying to pick up a flying block while it was still moving, but perhaps that is to be expected when playing a game that hasn’t technically launched yet.

Overall, the good far, far outweighs the bad.  ilomilo is a fun and challenging puzzle game with a ton of personality.  Don’t let its cutesy look fool you, this game can be downright devious in its level design.  Though some people may find it just a little short on content for the price tag, if you’ve got the money and are interested in puzzle games I highly recommend giving ilomilo a go.

Developer: SouthEnd Interactive

Genre: Puzzle

Time: 4-5 hours to complete singleplayer, maybe twice that for 100%

Gripes: Slightly too short, lack of Xbox Live cooperative

Get it for the: Interesting level structure, fiendish puzzles, and amazing personality