Are you feeling a bit down? Under the weather? Sick and tired of this dreary Summer? If so, you should keep reading and find out how ilomilo plans to brighten up your life. This is the latest puzzle game to hit Xbox Live, generously priced at 800 MSP (AU$13). Just when you thought that puzzle games were starting to get a bit uninspired, along plods ilomilo and a universe of madness that would make Tim Burton proud. Your world is going to get turned upside down and become more bizarre than you could ever imagine.
ilomilo tells the tale of (unsurprisingly) 'ilo' and 'milo', two adorable little characters who wake up in the morning so that they can reunite once more. It's not a story driven game by any means, the only thing holding the plot together is some random humour and a cast of crazy characters. The art direction is what really stands out here, it's like watching a children's cartoon that was banned because the creator was on acid. Everything is abnormal, and the blend of colour and sound ties the whole presentation together nicely. ilomilo is definitely one of the better looking Xbox Live Arcade titles, but the visuals are merely a lick of paint over this brilliant, challenging and charming puzzler.
In order to progress through the ludicrous story, players need to solve nine puzzles in each of four worlds. Three bonus levels per world can also be attempted at your own risk. All of the locations have a distinct feel and are visually striking, with each one upping the difficultly level. The first tutorial is basic and introduces you to the main concept, moving two characters around a structure made entirely of cubes. Meeting your partner is simple at the beginning, but as you discover new techniques, you'll realise that ilomilo has a lot of tricks hidden away inside. Picking up living block creatures and making a bridge out of them is common and doesn't require much skill, flipping the level upside down and distracting traps however, that's when you need to think long and hard about how you're going to solve the problem. Not tough enough? Try using a trap door to get around a blockade without getting nauseous. With each passing technique, ilomilo becomes more rewarding and if you're patient enough to stick with it, you'll see the hours flying past.
A really smooth control scheme helps you when the puzzles start getting complicated. Players can switch between characters at any time by pressing 'X', a quick tap of 'A' lets you interact with objects, and you can make the camera zoom out with 'Y'. ilomilo's world is topsy turvy, and the camera does an excellent job of keeping even the most mind numbing of puzzles in order. Since ilomilo is built upon cubes, you're limited to moving in four directions but that's not a problem, it's challenging enough already. For the completionists out there, each level has numerous different items to find. Many of these will be collected naturally (unlocking pieces of artwork), although the rest will be tucked away in obscure corners. Achieving the one hundred percent milestone won't be easy, so rest assured - there's plenty of life in ilomilo. There's also an unlockable mini-game which ties into the story, and a creative achievement that can be unlocked in the main menu. Yes it's absolutely pointless; but try not to smile, try not to be happy when you're staring at ilomilo. You will fail.
There are a couple of faults worth mentioning, in particular, the inability to carry two blocks at the same time. You'll be doing an awful lot of shuffling back and forth, so it would have made sense to alleviate the repetition slightly. Loading times are another annoyance, even though they're not overly long, there's one between every single puzzle. For something that's ideal to play in short bursts (thereby avoiding frustration and confusion), quick and snappy jumps to and fro would have been welcomed. Online multiplayer is a glaring absentee, especially for a game that is essentially based around co-operative gameplay. Local co-op goes some way towards solving the problem, but why is the enjoyment restricted to your home?
Niggling gripes aside, ilomilo is still an outstanding puzzler for Xbox Live with an enticing price tag. Browse through the Marketplace and try to find an original new release for under the 1200 MSP (AU$20) mark, we assure you - they're few and far between. Clever, traditional puzzle games are a dying breed, so to find one for less than the price of a cinema ticket is steal. The 'cute factor' isn't for everyone, but as an example of a fine artistic and creative vision, ilomilo is one of the best available. Do everyone a favour and support the developers behind projects like this one; we don't want any more job losses in 2011.