Ilona and Milton are symbolic of the trials and tribulations that plague most relationships. Love under a cloud of impending and inescapable mortality, unrequited and/or otherwise, is a theme the two protagonists battle throughout their seemingly short time together. Saying much more would not only spoil the game for anyone on the verge of a purchase, but also be an affront to the heaps of TLC SouthEnd Interactive have so skillfully kneaded into the gameplay.
The basic premise at the start of the game tasks you with reuniting two furry creatures by the names of the ilo and milo, who would like nothing else in the world but to have a cup of apple tea in each other’s company at the local park. At the end of the day, they bid each other a teary farewell and promise to meet again the next morning. Unfortunately, machinations beyond their control conspire against the rendezvous, twisting the layout of the park every which way.
To end or not to end
Your first objective is to reunite ilo and milo, who start off at opposite ends of the level. You can switch control between either of the two adorable beings whenever you like and guide them across a series of three-dimensional cubes that make up the grid-based puzzles filling out every chapter. Once you’re past the initial batch of tutorial levels, the game eases you into its first chapter with a non-linear layout that gives you a set of nine puzzles to work through, before the next chapter opens itself up. With four chapters in all and a set of bonus levels with its own subplot, there’s a decent amount of puzzling to be had.
ilo and milo are allowed forward and backward motion along each grid of cubes, with their only ability to alter their range of movement coming by way of special pick-ups. These range from elevator cubes that move you upward or downward depending on your orientation, to accordion cubes that let you cross chasms in the grid. There are also ‘magic carpets’ stuck to the sides of select cubes that let you shift from one plane to the other.
Where ma torch at?
This manipulation of 3D space is well realized, with camera and zoom controls that let you view the topsy-turvy plane shifting from a bird’s-eye view. The special cubes also function differently based on the plane they’re activated on. Hint: When stuck, try activating a cube on one plane and see seeing how it affects the puzzle on another plane. There are also collectibles strewn across the levels that unlock letters and paintings, which narrate a seemingly parallel (and more somber) story in the real world. Picking up records and photographs placed at far-corners of levels let you view extra artwork and listen to the amazing score.
You can unite ilo and milo without all this busywork, but you’ll be compelled to revisit the levels to collect everything available and to solve the puzzles in the quickest time possible (leaderboards are available, and some of the scores on it are eye-popping). There are also mini-games to unlock and a two-player mode that doesn’t bring as much to the table as you’d think it would.
Why hello there
As good as these puzzles are, what ultimately hurts the game is the fact that there’s usually only ever one answer to each problem, which is ironic for a game that does so much with the third dimension. The last couple of chapters especially have an issue with difficulty spikes and singular solutions. Making things worse is the fact that it’s very easy to paint yourself into a corner, where your only option is to restart the level. Still, you’ll find yourself coming back for more, not just to continue the story, but also because the aesthetics of the game are so relaxing.
Like a Maurice Sendak illustrated book, the art takes you to worlds filled with fantastic creatures and imagery that changes with the chapter. You’ll see amazing realized renditions of locations from the story, and the final chapter in particular is fittingly bittersweet. Filled with enough detail to keep you interested throughout and drip fed at a pace that won’t have you finishing a set of levels only to find out you’ve forgotten where you were, the story alone makes it worth slogging through the crafty (and sometimes frustrating) grid based puzzles.
We are family
Supremely polished and heartfelt, this is a wonderful game to start the new year with. Take a lesson from ilo and milo. Cherish the moment.
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