Ilomilo is one of those games that seems to have sprung out of nowhere. That’s not to say no-one’s been aware of it, but the fact that you can download and play it right now on Xbox 360 via the Super Secret Site – or on Windows Phone 7 if you’re in the US and on AT&T – hasn’t been that widely publicised. There’s undoubtedly some good viral marketing reason for this, but there’s no reason that the typically well-informed OneMetal reader should go without.
The first thing most people will think when they see the game is “LittleBigPlanet”, and while Ilomilo superficially bears resemblance to Sony’s incredible game, it’s an old-fashioned spatial puzzler at heart. Title characters Ilo and Milo go together like cheese and pickle; like bacon and eggs; like eating a whole packet of Angel Delight and weeping silently in a wardrobe. They want nothing more than to be together, but each morning when they wake up they find the world has rearranged itself, and so they must navigate their cube-based floating world and find their way back to each other.
It’s not as straightforward as all that though. While they can stand on all 6 sides of the cubes that make up the levels, they can only navigate onto other sides when they find a piece of carpet leading over the side. There are blocks that Ilo and Milo can pick up and move around, strange animals to ride and huge numbers of collectibles to find. You’ll need to switch between the two characters, passing blocks between the two of them to navigate them back together. The puzzles are ingenious and well-designed, and never feel unfair – always seeming obvious the moment you solve them, one of the signs of a great puzzle.
Early puzzles are gentle affairs, but once you head out of the first chapter (or try the optional levels that unlock when you find all the Safkas of a certain colour in each chapter) the difficulty ramps up, and before long a level can easily take 20 minutes to complete. Help (and strange, self-agrandising stories) is available from Sebastian, a tiny Napoleon-hatted man who lives inside a block and flies around on a beetle. He’s bizarre, but part an example of the brilliant design of the game. It always manages to stay on the right side of twee, with enough surreal and twisted humour and imagery to stop things getting too sickly (a melancholy backstory is slowly unlocked via the collectibles as well). It’s not a huge game, but it is generous in its extras. Once a level has been completed, you can replay to try to do it in as few moves as possible, with perpetual leaderboards to spur you on. There’s even a hidden 8-bit console and game to unlock.
In a year that has seen exceptional download titles like Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Joe Danger and Super Meat Boy, Ilomilo is the icing on the cake. It’s the sort of game that wouldn’t stand a chance at retail, but its combination of retro charm, stunning presentation and brain-twisting puzzles makes it the perfect game for the download market.
Ilomilo is available to download now in the US on Windows Phone 7 (free until 2011) for AT&T customers, and on Live Arcade from the The Super Secret Site. It goes on general release next year on both formats. Xbox 360 version reviewed.