As games go, I’m usually a top-down strategy fan with a bit of first person shooting thrown in. Perhaps add a sprinkling or MMORPG and resource management and I’m happy.
What I really can’t abide when it comes to gaming is puzzle games. Similarly, I’ve no time for cutesy, ditsy, cynically-designed characters with hack-written backstories that are supposed to make me “care”.
I’ve largely avoided puzzle games over the last twenty years, which makes me wonder why on earth I’m reviewing Ilomilo, a Windows Phone title that features cutesy, ditsy characters with backstories that could have come from a cereal packet and plenty of puzzles.
Either I’ve gone mad under the strain of playing so many Windows Phone games of late, or else Ilomilo really is rather good – certainly good enough to erase the nightmarish hell of endless 8-bit and 16-bit puzzlers with pipes and bombs.
What’s It All About?
This unusual little game is very simple. You basically have to control and reunite two friends, Ilo and Milo, across a succession of puzzle landscapes that sit upon a surrealistic backdrop. The puzzles are constructed from cubes that Ilo and Milo can walk on, and some of these can be interacted with in various ways – some might be keys, others might transport your character to the other side of the map.
Ilomilo is a single player Xbox live puzzle game, which means that only you can control where the characters go. This is the puzzle element, and some levels can take several attempts to get right if you don’t make the right choices at the right time.
First released back in the days of Windows Phone 7, Ilomilo is an Xbox Live title, so if you unlock achievements you can improve your Gamerscore!
The Pleasure of Playability
One of my long-standing issues with puzzle games is that I find them largely unplayable. I’m barely a few levels in before things start to get stupid – a new element is introduced without the designers actually bothering to provide any context or attempting to construct more devilish challenges with the existing tools, for instance.
Ilomilo, on the other hand, features a very easy to handle user interface and helpful hints at the start of each level. Simple arrow buttons on the display can be used to guide Ilo and Milo around, a switch character button is placed where you might expect to find the jump/fire button in another type of game, and any additional functions offered by the puzzle’s landscape will appear as new buttons when your active character is beside the appropriate tool.
Thanks to the graphics and sound (more on that below), Ilomilo is an eminently playable and pleasurable experience, marred only by that staple Windows Phone issue – the inability to disable the Back, Start and Search buttons on the handset. I’ve never spent more than 5 minutes on any game on this platform without finding myself back at the Start screen and having to tap Back in order to resume gameplay…
Graphics and Sound
What really makes Ilomilo work – beyond its playability – is the way in which the graphics and sound have been designed. Yes, I usually hate cutesy characters but here in Ilomilo they somehow work, fitting in well with the 3D world in which they inhabit and the accompanying soundtrack that helps to enhance the surreal landscapes.
You’ll probably be stunned by the way the puzzle floats above a bizarre background, how the screen flips around when you switch between Ilo and Milo and perhaps even by the gyro-powered movement of the backdrop that enhances the three dimensional illusion. When I first played Ilomilo I was amazed that a Windows Phone could do this, but this platform really is great for gaming as well as other tasks (our Windows Phone guide explains further).
Another great game for Windows Phone, Ilomilo features Xbox Live integration and offers a series of increasingly difficult puzzles against a stunning backdrop of surrealist 3D nonsense. I doubt that I’ve overcome my disdain for cutesy, ill-conceived characters, but at least Ilomilo has restored my faith in the writers who create these types of story.
The only downside, perhaps, is the price. You get a good flavor from playing Ilomilo in demo mode, however, but $4.99/£3.99 seems a little steep when compared to newer titles. Nevertheless, it is one of the best games for Windows Phone and has been since 2010, which is why we’ve included it in our Best Windows Phone Apps list.