Format: Xbox 360 Release: Out now Publisher: Microsoft Developer: Southend Interactive
Ilomilo seeks to bludgeon you with whimsy, to smother you in a rich and cloying fug of patchwork worlds, squeezebox soundtracks, and loading screens plastered with folksy little scraps of poetic nonsense. At first it can feel like you’ve been thrust into a mobile phone advert from 2005. That said, while the game’s twee stylings seem forced and the charm is a little too mannered to be truly effective, the presentation will soon fade into the background. Southend’s spatial puzzler is clever enough to survive such a heavy-handed dose of focus-grouped fancy: you won’t need to love it in order to appreciate some of its better tricks.
And so, beneath the floral wallpaper and jingle-jangle pickups, things are pleasantly austere. Ilomilo’s floating mazes see you switching between characters in order to reunite a wandering duo who initially seem terminally trapped on separate planes, and as the variables pile up, the game’s levels begin to form a nice little laboratory for witty experiments with trap doors, springs, elevators and the odd roving platform disguised as a dog.
Southend’s better challenges feel like frantically over-engineered origami, and the very best require unravelling the puzzle from both ends simultaneously. By the time you’re walking on walls, passing items between characters and zooming out to approach things from an entirely different perspective, the game’s nimble complexity has achieved a little of the personality its overblown visuals so regularly lunge for.
Alongside bonus levels, collectables and leaderboards combine to provide width if not depth, each tugging the game in its own direction as you replay stages to root out a variety of tinkling treasures or to slice solutions down to the tightest sequence of moves, while crowd-sourced completion stats give you a sense of how you’re competing against the rest of the mob. That, alongside a difficulty curve that comes with a few tantalising kinks in it, is just about enough to ensure that, while Ilomilo’s calculated oddness may ultimately fall flat, its most intelligent puzzles embrace three dimensions surprisingly well.