For those who thought Kirby's Epic Yarn was a touch too menacing, twee downloadable puzzler ilomilo is a perfect non-threatening alternative.
Like Kirby, ilomilo's plot is quintessential storybook fare. Every day, antenna-sporting candy-colored best friends Ilo and Milo have a standing playdate to meet up and drink tea, or sometimes just to stare at the scenery together while munching on snacks. The thing is, they're both a tad forgetful and have a tendency to space on their exact meeting spot. It's the player’s job to unite the quirky pals, taking turns controlling each one as they navigate the game’s nearly 50 whimsical, gravity-defying and increasingly labyrinthine mazes.
And blowing through the game would really be a waste, since there are lots of good reasons to sit back and enjoy the ride. Each world is lush and imaginative, and some of the later levels require methodical spatial thinking so taxing that you won't mind pausing for a few moments, staring at the googly-eyed clouds or mustachioed flying Rolf-looking creatures whizzing around in the distance. Like in Kirby’s Epic Yarn, the absence of danger and the presence of so many damn collectibles creates a nurturing environment for exploration. Weirdly, the cutesy aesthetics made it that much easier to cuss at the screen when I simply couldn’t figure out how how to proceed even though I thought I’d tried everything. And though at its core there's little difference between the approach required for the first level the approach required for the final one, there's a noticeablly sharp increase in difficulty along the way. More often than not I’d blithely storm forward until I hit a dead end, then promptly switch to the other character and then repeat until hopefully, they’d wind up next to one other. By the time I reached the final outer-space world, it was clear that that approach just wouldn’t cut it. Though ilomilo does a very good and patient job of teaching new elements as players progress, the dramatic changes that happen in the final world prove fairly confounding. Fortunately, whenever I hit a wall in those later sections, I could always just revisit all those earlier levels and try to find 100 percent of the collectables or give the leaderboards a run.But really, there's little to find fault with here. Simultaneously precious in aesthetics and grizzly in difficulty, drenched in color and bursting with a cotton-candy-colored soundtrack, ilomilo delivers on a simple concept and is well-paced enough not to overstay its welcome as it goes along. And hey, amid a plummeting economy and skyrocketing unemployment rates, isn't the world about due for a feel-good game that simply celebrates the can-do spirit of friendship?
ilomilo was developed by Southend Entertainment and published by Microsoft. It is available digitally via the Xbox Live Arcade.David Wolinsky is a writer for Adult Swim, a columnist for GameSpy, and a reviewer for many fine gaming sites including this one. He's also the 1995 Blockbuster store champion at Donkey Kong Country, but you don't hear him bragging about it.
In concept, getting Ilo next to Milo is a simple enough task, but as players progress from the tutorial to underwater mazes and eventually to gargantuan systems of platforms floating in the star-flecked night sky, an increasing number of wrinkles are added to the game’s underlying mechanics. You see, Ilo and Milo can't jump. They can't run. All they can do is walk from block to block, bypassing their handicap with various elements in the environment. And in the spirit of ilomilo's prevailing theme of cooperation, the game features a local co-op mode that allows two best friends (or, you know, roommates) each to control one half of the titular duo. Some achievements are only accessible in this mode, but that's the only true motivation to check it out beyond the inherent fun of teamwork, since ilomilo is still thoroughly enjoyable as a solo excursion.
There are lots of knick-knacks and doo-dads to collect in each level. These are there for completists, but they also serve as a subtle indicator of where players should be headed in each level. Collectibles include everything from Polaroid photos that fill in the story to playable music tracks to an unlockable NES-style mini-game called “Ilomilo Shuffle” hidden for players who can get creative enough with one of the game's trickiest blocks, the elevator cube. And then there are the tiny, hat-wearing Safkas. Most levels contain up to three Safkas, and holding their precious widdle hands all the way to the end of the stage helps unlock a subset of tougher bonus stages, many of which feature nods to other popular indie titles like World Of Goo or Super Meat Boy. Though the game itself can be plowed through in a three-day weekend, reaching the end certainly doesn't mean you've seen everything ilomilo has to offer.