It’s difficult to lavish praise on indie games without toeing the line of a professional stereotype. On any given Friday, you’ll find the scorned poets that compose a sizable portion of the gaming press holding forth at their local drinking hole, lamenting the lack of innovation in major game releases and heaping acclaim on this week’s most obscure homespun title that has been produced on the smell of an oily rag.
ilomilo might not quite have the inflated indie credentials required for more than a passing mention at such a gathering of worthies, but it’s both good enough and low-pro enough that typing up a review of it is sufficient to induce self-consciously clammy palms.
Recently released for Xbox LIVE Arcade, SouthEnd Interactive’s latest is a charming puzzling platform game featuring two separated friends named ilo and milo. It’s the player’s role (or players’ roles) to reunite the two across 36 maps composed of suspended cubes.
The whimsical presentation looks and sounds like it was lifted from the failed pilot for a new TV show aimed at toddlers. The rotund ilo and milo are safkas, bubbling cutesy creatures sure to entice any youngsters in the vicinity to squeal in delight and paw at your screen with sticky fingers. The two are aided by Sebastian, a camp guide who rides a ladybug, and who shares the fashion sensibilities of the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
They work towards one another across a series of beautiful themed environments, from a park saturated by a golden sunset to a world composed of origami. But the childish aesthetics belie an increasingly cerebral experience. The crossword-like puzzles are rarely linear, usually in four dimensions, and typically require more than a little trial and error. Players can switch between ilo and milo, and must work at the same problem from two ends.
To add a further level of complexity, scattered throughout the levels are recyclable cubes that you can interact with such as extendable ladders and creatures called Munchers. Particular cubes are marked with a red arrow. Crossing them flips the entire level to reveal another side as if you were turning over a rubik’s cube.
The game can be played cooperatively, with each player taking control of one safka and alternating turns. When a player isn’t in control, they’re given a cursor that they can use to highlight cubes for the benefit of their partner. The camera is also noteworthy: Should ilo or milo become obscured by the puzzle, the offending cubes will become transparent.
Each level contains a variety of collectibles such as memories and vinyl that are usually hidden or difficult to attain. Doing so will unlock bonus levels and materials providing further insight into the otherwise superficial premise. Statistics report how many tiles or cubes you’ve moved across to complete a map and these can be measured against others online. Together these elements should give you plenty of reasons to revisit ilomilo after you’ve unravelled the primary puzzles.
At just 800 Microsoft Points and offering more than ten hours of gameplay, ilomilo also represents exceptional value for your dollar. But to boil the game down to a value proposition is to do it a great disservice. SouthEnd has produced an endearing experience that deserves to be judged on its creative merits alone, and one that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the month's high profile releases.
If that sounds pretentious or clichéd, then so be it.