Good graphics don’t make a good game. Then again, it never hurts to have something as eye-catchingly beautiful as ilomilo shining out of your phone’s screen.
Simultaneously released on XBLA, ilomilo is about as close to an Xbox 360 game in terms of looks as we’ve seen thus far on the Windows Phone 7.
Unlike other much-hyped exclusives such as The Harvest, it backs up its visual credentials with some compelling gameplay that should have even the most grumpy of souls smiling.
Let’s get together
As both ilo and milo - two cute-looking a-sexual creatures with little antennas flopping around on their heads - your task is to navigate a series of mazes to reunite the pair.
This is achieved by picking up and plonking cubes down to bridge gaps (the two heroes don’t fall off the sides or jump), activating switches, and navigating a few obstacles along the way.
Making things considerably more interesting than that last paragraph suggests is the inclusion of the third dimension.
Certain blocks marked with a small red carpet allow the pair to flip 90 degrees along the surface of the shape - a feature that’s used to great effect over the course of the game’s 32 standard levels and six bonus stages.
The array of obstacles and items seems at first to be rather stingy, with just two types of moveable cubes (one extends out three spaces) and two obstacles - a hungry pig-thing and a jack-in-the-box cube - standing in the way.
It’s how Southend Interactive uses this limited toolset that makes each level a joy to play, with every element combining with another at some point, almost always relying on both characters working in unison and often requiring some lateral thought to progress.
Each level also contains a number of little Safkas (baby versions of ilo and milo, essentially) placed in hard-to-reach areas of the map, which both act as an incentive to return to a previously completed level, and represent some of the hardest puzzles outside of the bonus stages themselves.
The atmosphere surrounding the game - from the fantastic picture-book introductions to each of the three chapters, to the design of the graphics and the scribbled pictures in the background - has an innocent, child-like feel that can’t help but charm, even when you're stuck on a particularly nasty puzzle.
There’s very little frustration outside of the head-scratching conundrums either, thanks to there being no way of killing the little creatures, getting trapped in an unwinnable position, or being stuck on one particular level - this latter aspect thanks to the game’s generous progression system.
It’s because of this system that you’re likely to find the final pages of the picture book closing after only an hour or two’s play, but it’s hard to resist going back to previously completed levels to hunt down hidden eggs, to finish those that stumped you before, or just to beat XBL friends on the leaderboards.
Tiny niggles here and there, such as the occasionally reluctant camera, don’t diminish what is otherwise not just the prettiest WP7 game released, but also one of the platform’s strongest.