Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios / Developer: SouthEnd Interactive / Platform: XBLA

When ilomilo was announced as one of the three games being released during Xbox Live’s winter arcade event, I personally saw it as the weakest title.  Raskulls was something I was excited about from the beginning, and as you can see by our review was quite worth the wait.  A World of Keflings seemed like an interesting strategy type game, much like the previous game, and ilomilo just seemed like a boring puzzle game.

Never have I been so happy to be wrong about something.

ilomilo is an almost painfully adorable story about two friends, Ilo and Milo, who like to meet every day in the park and drink apple tea.  What complicates this, however, is the fact that the park changes shape every day, making it harder and harder for the two friends to meet. Each level in ilomilo has one simple task: to get Ilo and Milo together.  The levels gradually rise in difficulty and eventually you’ll find yourself navigating Ilo and Milo upside-down, underneath the level, riding on block-shaped dogs and even rotating the level itself in order to bring these two friends together.

The game controls are pretty simple, with the left thumbstick controlling Ilo or Milo, the right stick controls the camera, the A button is used to pick up specific blocks that can be placed elsewhere, the Y button zooms the camera in and out, and the X button switches control between Ilo and Milo.

The level design in ilomilo is quite unique.  Each level is made entirely out of different types of blocks, some that Ilo and Milo can pick up and use, and others that simply make up the layout of the level.  Later on in the game you find yourself exploring multiple sides of these blocks as you walk up walls or fall through a block to flip over and stand, upside-down, on the other side.  Which side of a block you may be standing on also affects the way other blocks work.  An elevator block that only moves up and down becomes a platform that moves side-to-side when placed while standing on a wall.  ilomilo uses this logic to its advantage, creating many head-scratchingly difficult puzzles that suddenly fall into place when you rotate the world around.

ilomilo’s art style is nothing less than awesome.  The whole game has this sort of “stuffed animals and cardboard” aesthetic, much like Little Big Planet, except with more of a whimsical touch as opposed to LBP’s emphasis on practicality.  ilomilo’s soundtrack is cheery and addictive, and most of the sound effects are some kind of folky flourish, like a short breath through a harmonica or a chime from a tiny bell.

While the difficulty of the puzzles in ilomilo scales up nicely, the game is over all too soon.  The game has four chapters, each with 12 levels and three bonus levels, as well as one big finale level.  The game’s puzzles are challenging, yet you always feel like you can figure out the next step, aside from one particular level towards the end of the game that had me stumped for a long time. Each level has a large amount of collectible items, including concept art, music and little memory fragments that when collected unlock letters sent between Ilo and Milo that reveal some of the game’s back story, which the game has a surprising amount of.

Despite ilomilo’s cheeriness, the game has a few surprisingly sad moments every so often.  Bits of the back story and a specific series of bonus levels inject a jarring sort of sadness to the game, and as soon as it’s over the game lurches back into the usual cute overload.  Moments like these, while well-written, are sort of confusing, especially since they come so rarely over the course of the game, leaving you unsure whether you should just ignore it and enjoy the cuteness or dwell over what you just read.

Overall, ilomilo is an incredibly fun game with a great art style.  Most gamers will probably complete the game, including the bonus levels and collectibles, in only a few hours, but the lovable characters and addicting soundtrack are something you need to experience.