ilomilo is the third and final XBLA title to be released during Xbox 360′s “Games for the Holidays” promotion. While it’s already been out for the Windows 7 phone since its launch, the limited amount of users able to play it meant that not many people even knew about the game. While people in the know (or regular readers of the site) could get early access to the game, it’s now ready for the masses to enjoy.
ilomilo is a simple cubed-based puzzler that is through the roof in the cute department. Each level starts ilo and milo on separate ends of the cubed world with the goal of reuniting the two. You control one of the characters at a time but can freely switch between the two by pressing X. By manipulating the blocks and solving environment based puzzles, you must traverse the level to get ilo and milo on adjacent squares.
Sounds simple right? Sure it sounds simple and indeed the levels in the first chapter are pretty easy but the difficulty quickly ramps up as the game throws more game mechanics at you. As you get deeper into the game, not only are you moving single cubes but there are also cubes that stretch, trap door cubes to get to the underside of the levels, cube monsters that eat apples and can transport ilo or milo around the level, jack-in-the-box type of creatures that you have to distract with one character so the other can pass, snake creatures that steal cubes from you as you pass and more. Needless to say, the puzzles can get fairly difficult in the later levels.
The game becomes even more difficult if you are a completionist because there are a few collectibles in this game, some of which are deviously hard to get to. You collect photos and music to earn storyboards and other goodies but if you want something that really matters in terms of gameplay, you can rescue the Safkas. Scattered throughout each level are three Safkas with a color each. If you manage to find every Safka of one specific color in the entire chapter, you unlock a bonus puzzle that is more difficult, meaning there are three bonus puzzles in each chapter if you can hunt down all of the Safkas.
Also hidden in one specific level is the “legendary gaming device”, the Ultra Deluxe System, which comes with ilomilo Shuffle. This is a minigame that can be played through an option in the main menu and features an 8-bit rendition of ilomilo. Even when heavily pixilated the little buggers are cute. I should note that ilomilo Shuffle can only be accessed by finding the Ultra Deluxe System first so keep your eyes open as you progress through the levels. There is another option in the story mode menu called Autumn Tale. However, since I couldn’t find every last Safka and collectible myself, I resorted to looking on the internet and it turns out that even after you find everything, this doesn’t get unlocked. That means we’ll most likely see some DLC in the future.
The game can also be played cooperatively. While this is not the most enjoyable co-op puzzler in the XBLA, the format of the game makes it work. You already only control one character at a time so each player simply controls a character and passes control to each other. While you’re not playing, you can highlight boxes using Oli and Moli so you can give specific instructions to the players who hopelessly walk around trying to figure out what to do, which can get extremely frustrating if it’s a simple solution in your mind.
ilomilo is developed by Southend Interactive, which I don’t think is a large studio and you can tell by its slightly generic but cute art style. However, the personality and charm more than makes up for the lack of flashy graphics. The humor comes in as the weird, random type that makes you giggle whenever it does appear. Most entertaining are some of the loading screen messages. For example, one says that the Safkas decided to become mustache barbers but then realized it’s difficult to become a barber when you have no arms. Another says that the Safkas go on a march every 100 years to see who is the toughest but they always turn back after a couple of minutes when they realized they forgot their hats. Umm…what? I just wish there was more of them as they tend to repeat quite often.
The music is very suitable for the game as it’s nice and cheerful, which fits perfectly with the happy-go-lucky art style of the game. I particularly like the pause screen music where it’s quite evident that this was a lovingly crafted game. It sounds like one person is playing the main melody with a flute but they left in the small mistakes and slightly sloppy playing. While it may come off as unprofessional to some, I personally think it adds to the charm and complements the wonkyness and nonsensical nature of the game. Plus I love the DIY nature of smaller studios so it works very well for me.
Also, for those who care, there is an awesome achievement involving the game’s music. By moving up and down in the main menu, a note gets played for each option and the achievement requires you to play the main menu song by hitting the correct notes. Yeah it doesn’t have anything to do with the gameplay itself but hey, I love creative achievements.
Another plus is that there is interconnectivity with the other “Games for the Holidays” promotion titles: A World of Keflings and Raskulls. If you have a save file for any one of these games and pick up another, the characters are interchangeable. For example, if you have an ilomilo save file, you can create a home for them in A World of Keflings and they will wander around the village. Alternatively, you can dress up ilo and milo as Keflings or use ilo as a playable character in Raskulls.
All in all, this is a simple but solid puzzler. At 800MSP ($10), I think the price point is just right if you like these types of games. You get four chapters with nine levels plus three bonus puzzles in each. If you don’t cheat and look up the solutions, you get a decent amount of playtime for the price, especially if you try to hunt down all the collectibles. However, like most puzzlers, replay value decreases tremendously as soon as you know the solutions. Since replay value is an inherent issue with the puzzle genre as a whole and not this game specifically, it did not affect the score but I still thought I should point that out.
The game is full of charm and the characters are adorable but don’t let the cutesy art style fool you. This is a deceptively difficult puzzler in the later levels, particularly if you obsess over collectibles as some of these are very hard to get to. While the premise of the puzzles remains the same throughout the entire game, the core mechanics are so solid that even the lack of depth isn’t a huge detractor. If you like puzzlers, you’ll probably enjoy ilomilo.