When you see something like ilomilo for the first time, you can’t help but be drawn in by its gorgeous visuals. Arguably the cutest thing to hit gaming since Media Molecule unleashed Sackboy on the world, ilomilo looks like it could have been cut from the same cloth, quite literally, with its portrayal of lush fabric style textures and the padded, cushy feel. Saccharine sweet, with bright, adorable characters and wholesome music, it’s the digital equivalent to an explosion in a textiles factory and so good looking you’ll just want to give it a hug. But don’t, because cradling your screen will look more than a little bit weird. And you’ll probably end up dropping the TV set on your foot.
Anyone who’s played Tinker on Window’s Vista or Games for Windows Live will immediately get the core concept of ilomilo. The player must navigate little ilo and milo around the mass of blocks which form each level, flipping between them at will in order to get the two friends to meet up. The game quickly teaches you that there is no real sense of up or down, nor top to bottom, like an Escher painting in motion, but with the cold sterility replaced with bags of warmth and charm. Although it must be done using the special arrowed carpets on certain blocks rather than at will, the player will often find themselves flipping over and over to solve each level, while all the while trying to retain their grasp on the relativity of the characters in the gaming space in order to make the rendezvous. Thankfully the game features a button which causes ilo and milo to wave to one another and, aside from being overwhelmingly cute, serves to avoid the player becoming too disorientated.
Along the way there are various blocks that can be picked up (but only one at a time) and then used to help reach their objective. These have various uses such as single blocks to bridge gaps or expanding ones which can be for larger spaces. Later blocks introduce more complicated mechanics such as trapdoors to pass through, but often the game requires the player to balance carrying them around the level without cutting themselves off, or even passing them between ilo and milo by clever use of the shifting dimensions and axis.
Thankfully, unlike the aforementioned Tinker, the game takes a more laid back approach and although it keeps tracks of how many moves you’ve made before completing a level, it doesn’t restrict you to a set amount. While the game encourages you to complete each stage in as few moves as possible with its leaderboard integration, it essentially means you’re free to explore. And it certainly gives you quite a few reasons to do so.
The levels are scattered with fabric shapes which can be collected to put together memory fragments that form stories, along with photos to unlock art and records to change the music. But more importantly are the Safkas. In each level there are three of these hidden away and finding all of them for each World unlocks secret levels at the end. The fact that these hidden levels contain some great cameos by some recent indie game characters certainly makes it worth tracking down the Safkas.
The game doesn’t make this too easy though and despite a gentle introduction (albeit it one which could have done with a bit more depth in-game to explain things like the camera system), underneath ilomilo’s soft exterior beats a dark heart with the desire to test the player. You’ll quickly realise that meeting up ilo and milo in a level can actually turn out to be part of the problem as it instantly ends the level, and later puzzles cunningly require you to keep them apart as much as possible if you’re to track down all the collectables. ilomilo just manages to clear the hurdle of frustration by the fact that it doesn’t force you to collect these items to progress and that doesn’t limit your exploration. There’s no denying there are times when it will test you, but how can you possibly stay mad at something so adorable? It’d be like kicking a puppy in the face.
With plenty of levels for the player to conquer, and the leaderboard integration for those who want that extra level of challenge, there’s enough to keep you playing. While ilomilo may not do anything that hasn’t been seen before, it does it with such a degree of charm and finesse that it’s highly recommended for anyone looking for a solid and entertaining puzzle game.