Review: Ilomilo’s Surprising Depth Is A Matter Of Perception

A pair of friends vow to meet each other in the park each day, despite a twisted world that strives to keep them apart. This is the simple story behind ilomilo, a puzzle game much deeper than initial appearances.

Poor ilo and milo. Every day they venture into the park to spend valuable time together, yet every day the path to join the two becomes more and more twisted and convoluted. It seems like the world is conspiring to keep them apart. Still they persevere, navigating mind-numbingly complex 3D cube mazes in order to consummate their bond again and again. They use specialised blocks to overcome the obstacles and bizarre patchwork creatures that stand in their way, collecting music and memories as they go. It’s like a real friendship, distilled into puzzle game form.

Ideal Player

Navigating ilomilo’s convoluted levels is a job for players both patient and perceptive, plus an appreciation for whimsy wouldn’t hurt.

Why You Should Care

Not only is ilomilo a smart puzzle game with stunning visual flair, it’s also only 800 Microsoft points, which is the price all good Xbox Live Arcade titles used to be. Ah, memories.

How would you describe ilomilo’s artistic style? When the first screenshots of ilomilo appeared I might have labelled the game cute. Now that I’ve spent several hours immersed in the fantastical world that SouthEnd has crafted, the word that comes to mind is melancholy. It’s like walking through a land made up of fond childhood memories, where characters, creatures, and the very landscapes are crafted out of the scraps left behind when those memories fade. The wonderfully whimsical soundtrack that accompanies the gameplay at once enhances and clashes with the atmosphere, giving ilomilo a subtle dark and discordant tone, deepened by the smaller side stories that surface as collectibles are gathered and bonus levels are unlocked. Overall there’s a thick, satisfying atmosphere to ilomilo that one wouldn’t expect from a puzzle game.

It looks sort of complicated. Is it complicated? The game starts off simply enough. ilo and milo find themselves on separate sides of a cube-based map, and must manoeuvre special blocks in order to meet each other face-to-face. In early levels that might just mean placing a spare block to fill a gap, then switching to the other character to walk over it. As you progress through the game’s 49 levels, new tools are introduced that complicate matters significantly. There are blocks that twist about like ratchets; blocks that you can fall through, emerging on the opposite side. ilo and milo aren’t simply on different ends of a maze, you see. They can be on completely different sides. My spatial awareness was put to the ultimate test. Many times I failed. Luckily I had help.

This adorable two-creature band is always ready with drum and tuba to mark your accomplishments.

What about your real friends? You can team up with a friend to play ilomilo cooperatively. While one player is in control of his or her character, the other controls a fly that acts as a pointer, which can be used to point out routes or special objects. The multiplayer is enjoyable enough, though I had a better time playing single player while my friends watched, lending their own unique perspective to the perspective-based puzzles.

Any problems? I did encounter a nasty little glitch on several occasions that locked up my entire system, causing me to power the 360 off and then on again. In some seven hours of play the problem has struck perhaps four times, generally when I finally saw exactly what I needed to do in order to complete a particularly difficult level. It was as if the game knew I was going to beat it and took its own life rather than face humiliating defeat. Other than that, I did feel the game was a little on the short side. The credits rolled about five hours into my first play through, and that’s with an hour spent banging my head against one of the final levels. I didn’t feel cheated. I just wanted more.

ilomilo In Action

Here’s a little co-op play of ilomilo. Mind my partner’s controller clumsiness. It’s the first time she played.

In the darkness of the final chapter, light plays a part in getting ilo and milo together.

The introduction tells a story of slightly confused friendship.

This mini-game is unlocked once you find a certain item in a certain level. That’s all you get.

This mini-game is unlocked once you find a certain item in a certain level. That’s all you get.
The Bottom Line

ilomilo is a game that celebrates the power of friendship. It’s about how two people working together can maintain a strong relationship no matter how complicated and convoluted life becomes. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but the fact that a puzzle game has left me in this thoughtful of a mood is something in itself. To others it might simply be an enjoyable marriage of challenging puzzles, gorgeous graphics, quirky character design, and whimsical music. It’s all that to me, and something deeper as well.

ilomilo was developed by SouthEnd Interactive and published by Microsoft for Xbox Live Arcade, released on January 5 (early purchase was available on November 26). A version is also available for the Windows Phone 7 platform. Retails for 800 Microsoft Points ($US10). A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the game’s four chapters, unlocking most of the bonus levels and completing the story. Played a few levels cooperatively. Failed to unlock the achievement for scoring 500 points in the unlockable mini-game. Left the music on in the background for nearly a week and never got tired of it.

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