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Platform(s): Xbox 360
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Southend
Release Date: Jan. 5, 2011


XBLA Review - 'ilomilo'

by Adam Pavlacka on Jan. 5, 2011 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Explore the visually lush dream world of ilomilo. Challenge yourself with exciting puzzles as you dive deeper and deeper into the story. Play along with a friend or family member and share the journey. The puzzles are easy to learn, but challenging and deeply rewarding to find all the hidden surprises.

Originally released as one of the Windows Phone 7 launch titles late last year, ilomilo has made its way to XBLA where the pair can explore its cube world alongside a much larger audience. While it may be based on a mobile title, ilomilo isn't a slouch when it comes to entertainment. This lighthearted puzzler manages to mix equal parts cuteness and challenge to deliver an experience that should please gamers of all ages.

The premise behind ilomilo is simple. Two friends, ilo and milo, are separated. They are lonely alone and want to find each other. When they're together, they dance. Keeping them separated is a world full of crazy floating blocks, odd creatures and an odd version of gravity. Once you wrap your head around the MC Escher-esque physics, everything else just goes with the flow.

Navigating the world is done from both perspectives. Although ilo and milo start out on different parts of each level, no puzzle can be solved by just one of the pair. You need to swap back and forth between the two to overcome various obstacles and win the level. For example, one of the early obstacles that the pair faces is a cube creature that pops up to block your path. However, this cube creature has a weakness: It can only block one side at a time. The solution is simply to have either ilo or milo stand on one side while the other then passes by without issue.

Another nifty tool in the world of ilomilo are the moveable blocks. Available in multiple sizes, the moveable blocks can be used to temporarily create pathways for our intrepid explorers to use. The moveable blocks can be put most anywhere, but they cannot be free floating. They always have to be touching an existing block formation.

As you navigate around the cubical world attempting to reunite ilo and milo, the game also presents a number of secondary challenges. These appear in the form of collectible creatures (Safka), records and pictures. Collecting the Safka unlocks bonus levels within each world while the records and pictures unlock gallery items. You can also collect flowers on each level to fill your memory meter and eventually unlock bits of a large image.

Part of the joy in ilomilo is the sheer variety in how to play. You can compete simply to solve each puzzle and reunite the pair. You can try to collect every single collectible item. You can even attempt to solve each puzzle in the minimum number of moves. The latter option is the most addicting one, thanks to leaderboard support. It's not uncommon for a player to complete a level, and then go back to immediately replay it in an attempt to get a lower score.

Visually, ilomilo is bright and colorful, with an organic look that feels more "homemade" than digitally generated. It's almost as if you're looking at a child's diorama project rather than a video game on a TV screen. All of the characters ooze cute, but ilo and milo steal the show. It doesn't matter how hard you think you are; watching the two dance every time they're reunited is sure to bring a smile to your face. The visuals are complemented perfectly by the music and sound effects, which convey a whimsical feel.

Given that the single-player experience is so satisfying, it is a shame that the multiplayer component doesn't reach the same level of polish. Multiplayer is limited to local co-op (there's no online option), and it is only turn-based. You each take control of ilo or milo, but there's no attacking a puzzle in real-time, split-screen fashion. Instead, multiplayer plays out much like the single-player mode. One player moves through the level until it's time to switch, and control then passes to the second character and player.

When you're not controlling ilo or milo in multiplayer, you can use a flying pointer to highlight individual blocks for your friend as well as make random characters appear at the edge of the screen. Eagle eyes can also use the pointer to unlock hidden eggs. It's a cute diversion, but it doesn't overcome the fact that multiplayer feels tacked on to an otherwise robust experience.

Though it doesn't affect the core gameplay, ilomilo does offer a few bonuses for players who also own Raskulls and A World of Keflings. If you own two or all three of the games, expect to see some character crossovers.

With its emphasis on friendship, puzzle-solving and a nonviolent world, ilomilo may not sound like a game for the hardcore, but don't be fooled by the superficial layer of cute. Yes, ilomilo may be designed to appeal to casual players, but there is more than enough challenge present to satisfy hardcore gamers. It's rare when a game has universal appeal, but ilomilo nails it.

Score: 8.0/10

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