Ilomilo and Doom 3 have something in common; the first-person shooter and XBLA puzzler are both scarce on duct tape. Doom 3 had you constantly switching from your weapon to a flashlight, so much so that a smart coder decided to release a duct tape mod to give guns flashlights. Southend’s XBLA puzzler would need the same to keep the game’s dynamic duo right next to each other, because its sole premise is to keep Ilo and Milo far, far away from each other.
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This is where you come in. You control Ilo and Milo alternately across fantastically designed levels with the intention of uniting them. Now, before you rush off to get some duct tape, bear in mind that you’d be negotiating nasty puzzles and a fiendish disregard for gravity. Each level starts with Ilo and Milo on separate ends of a map. You can use items like extending bridges, lifts and spare cubes (as a platform) so two become one. Since you control both Ilo and Milo across a world strewn with cubes, bridges and obstacles, there is potential for everything to go awry. However, the controls are pitch-perfect and are complement by a user-friendly camera to ensure that the only thing you have to worry about is bringing the lovable pair together.
While we’re on the topic of lovable, a special mention has to be made of the writing. Sure, there’s a general disregard for such things in most puzzle games, but the nice people at Southend have actually made a decent attempt at providing a whimsy narrative that lends itself well to the game’s surreal nature. If there’s one thing the game doesn’t lack, it’s atmosphere. It’s a world filled with weird creatures, from the cutesy safkas that are the game’s lead pair, to the game’s guide, Sebastian, a gentleman with “a certain sense for style and fashion”, who preens in front of a mirror and invents words like “fabulastic”.
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The biggest reason for the game’s charm is the world itself. Taking a cue from last year’s spectacular Kirby’s Epic Yarn, the world appears to be made of yarn and foam, as well as cardboard. Throw in a very neat color scheme that doesn’t make your eyes bleed and fantastic use of depth of field, and you have a very polished title. This extends to the music too. It’s catchy, but overstays its welcome when you hear it looped infinitely, which it will because the game forsakes the usual straight line of difficulty in favour of something more varied across stages. This helps keep Ilomilo from turning into a brute of a game, but it doesn’t dumb down the challenge. What you get is a spiked difficulty curve that the game balances out by easing you into each concept (such as using lifts to clear a level) with enough puzzles before throwing the old ones (like using cubes) you’ve been introduced to earlier.
You never feel overburdened by the ideas thrown at you. However, the varied difficulty in conjunction with the presentation make for an irritating pair at times, so much so that the game calls you out on your lack of wits to clear a level (if you brought duct tape, use it on your TV speakers). So yes, you will need to have patience to beat this. After all, this isn’t 7on10ops, though much like it, the narrative never really lives up to its promise; substituted instead by a brain teaser or twenty.
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Ilomilo is a solid puzzler that has you falling in love with its charm before it starts rearing its slightly difficult head. But that doesn’t make it bad. It’s worth a look-in for anyone with an interest in the genre, and of course, for fans of it.