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ilomilo

Officially released today, this was previously only available via a download code from a website. Once you’d acquired a code and downloaded the demo, you could then pay for the full version. No XBLA advertising. Undetectable in the Arcade menu. You’d be right to think there’s reason why ilomilo’s was hidden. There was – its great word-of-mouth advertising and discovering this hidden gem felt like a reward in itself.

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ilomilo (“eelomeelo”) sees you play as Ilo and Milo (little cushion-like creatures) who love going to the park together. The trouble is that they keep getting separated! It’s your task to reunite them once again by navigating increasingly complex labyrinths. As you explore the world, you’ll meet Sebastian (owner of 73 hats) and travel over four chapters. Sebastian, with the aid of his dragon, will help you through the tutorial and provide tales as you begin to unlock the many bonus stages. By accessing these bonus stages, Sebastian’s story will be presented to you via an 8-bit computer screen. ilomilo hugs and befriends you with the charm of a stuffed teddy bear.

The allure continues throughout the loading screens, menus and levels that are all presented perfectly. If there was a Kirby game where everything turned into fluffy, cuddly toys that wanted to play in parks all day, this is what it’d be like. It really stands out and grabs your attention – every character and piece of scenery looks like it was hand-stitched and filled with wool. The music is fantastic, too. From playing along to the theme in the main menu to the out of tune Oomph bands; you’ll have the little tunes stuck in your head for days. This is hyper-cute. It is charm turned up to 110%. You have been warned.

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This high level of design and presentation is pristine throughout the game’s four chapters. Each has its own theme split into multiple levels. On each level you have to discover ways to reunite Ilo and Milo by using the cubed animals dotted around the map. As you guide them around the three-dimensional labyrinths, you’ll collect little wool marbles and collectables that unlock photos or music found in the Gallery. Bonus stages in each chapter are unlocked by finding the little trapped guys who are hidden on each level and the wool marbles unlock parts of a dream (pieces of a drawing). There are hints available if you get stuck and the controls allow you to navigate the labyrinths with ease.

Controls are minimal and simple. There’s a button to make Ilo and Milo wave to each other. You can switch between the two characters at anytime; moving them around the level and collecting blocks/bridges to cross gaps. The blocks you pick up look like cubed animals that transform into a little backpack that Ilo/Milo carry with them. These will then fill a gap when dropped or expand like a portable bridge. Others will act to block your progress. Magic red carpets will let you defy gravity and walk over, around and under the levels allowing some of the puzzles to really test you. As the world is three-dimensional, completion of the later puzzles will require full 360 degree thinking. You can zoom out to get a better idea of what needs to be done. The zoom function helps deal with more complex puzzles that at times boggle the mind. That is until you solve them and think “how did I not see that in the first place!”. Death is not a worry in this world and if a level does get confusing you can start it again. If you are stuck then the level select screen lets you choose another level, similar to Bust-A-Move. Failing that you can always ask for a hint in the pause menu or get the help of a friend.

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The entire adventure mode can be played in co-op locally. Two players play both Ilo and Milo, tackling the adventure mode together. This is a really nice feature and it doesn’t disrupt the single player experience either; a perfect introduction for a friend/partner/family member who is new to gaming. Proof you don’t need some motion control gimmick to get non-gamers involved. The icing on the cake would have been the inclusion of co-op only levels that played on the ability to have both of the characters moving at the same time.

Also available is the ilomilo Shuffle game which is a hidden collectable in the main adventure. Once found, you can play a new mode and compete against friends on the leaderboard. Presented via an old portable gaming system, ilomilo Shuffle has a bright, pixelated retro look. Your aim is to move Ilo and Milo around a small level collecting photos and bonus points. The difficulty is in the constantly moving level platforms and how you control both of the characters at the same time. As the level speeds up you’ll be panicking to keep them away from the falling platforms.

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It isn’t all perfect and there are a few pieces of tangled floss. Ilo and Milo’s movement around the world can feel inaccurate at first. With the levels built from cubes your movement is not free-roaming and is squared off; like navigating a chess board. It may take you a few levels of play before you stop moving a square too far or not enough. A rewind function would have smoothed some of the edges. It can be frustrating to carry a block across a level and then realise you picked the wrong one. These small complaints aren’t enough to derail or even dint the immense amount of fun you’ll have getting these cute little guys back together .

The universe Southend Interactive has stitched and weaved together is so cute and playable it’d be a crime to miss it. A simple yet brilliant concept delivered with real passion. This is what kids’ TV should be like. Not some twunt with a rubbish haircut waltzing around in front of the camera after doing a few… – let’s stop before the RANT begins.

ilomilo is a complete joy from start to finish; exactly what XBLA needed; and exactly what’s needed after fighting some non-cuddly alien maggots with a size 13 boot.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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