There's a scene in the film Across the Universe where Dr. Robert (played by U2's Bono) goes to visit Dr. Geary, a fellow hippie guru, and says, "What's weird is, we haven't met yet - on this, or any other plane."
When I was playing Sothend Interative's ilomilo, this quote kept popping into my head. I'm not sure if it was due to the game's wonderfully designed, Sgt. Pepper-inspired artwork, its trance-inducing, meditative music, or the not-knowing-which-way-is-up plane flipping that the game requires, but one thing is certain: ilomilo leaves a lasting impression sure to be felt long after you've turned off your Xbox 360.
ilomilo's title comes from blending the names of the game's two main characters. The red coloured Ilo and the blue hued Milo are good friends who enjoy spending time together. However, every day they decide to hang out, a different set of obstacles blocks their path. Your job is to reunite the colourful pair by manipulating floating cubes in a three-dimensional world, and that isn't nearly as easy as it sounds.
Part of what makes your job so challenging is the minimalist approach Southend Interactive has taken. Each level has only two or three cubes that can be manipulated, and even those change from level to level. Some cubes fill gaps, a few act as elevators, some will extend like a bridge, and still others can be rolled to new locations, while the rest remain stationary. The occasional obstacles - a sock puppet that pops out of a hole like the Sarlaac from Return of the Jedi being a particular favourite - make things even trickier.
But the most challenging aspect of ilomilo's mind-bending puzzles is that they all take place on multiple planes. Sometimes down is up and up is down -- it all depends on where you are and what type of cube you land on. Of course, this being a game about two friends, you don't go it alone. At the push of a button, players switch between controlling either Ilo or Milo, and they work as a team even if they are on opposite corners of a map. While playing I'd frequently have Ilo upside down on one side of the map, while Milo was sideways on another.
Despite being very complex, ilomilo is rarely intimidating. As long as you're patient - some levels took me over an hour to complete, others took 5 minutes - and think how best to use the limited tools at your disposal, chances are you'll work out an effective strategy.
While the gameplay in ilomilo is intellectually stimulating and the presentation is enchanting, the game does have some issues. For instance, the camera will occasionally get in the way. When stuck behind cubes, ilomilo does a decent job of letting you see through them, but when panning wide you aren't given a full 360-degree perspective - quite frustrating for a 3D puzzle game.
The difficulty of some levels can also be troublesome. Much like Raskulls, another of Microsoft's Games for the Holidays releases, ilomilo has a cutesy appearance that belies the intense challenge the game can throw at you. This is a game for puzzle veterans, so be mindful if you're considering buying it for your kids.
However, these issues are minor annoyances. ilomilo is an endearing, thought-provoking, and addictive puzzler, and with a selection of bonus mini-games and a well-balanced co-op mode, you're sure to get your money's worth.
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