ilomilo was developed by SouthEnd Interactive and published by Microsoft.  It was secretly released on XBLA last week and is scheduled for an official release on January 5th.  It will be a part of the “Games for the Holidays” promotion starting on December 22nd.  If you want to get the game early, you can read how to get it in the XBLA Fans preview post.

Puzzle games are a dime a dozen.  It seems that every time you blink, another match three game is being released, and there are enough point & click games to last an eternity.  It’s tough for any type of puzzle game to stand out and actually make you think outside the box these days.  With games like Braid, Limbo and The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom setting the bar for exceptional games revolving around deep thought, SouthEnd Interactive had their work cut out for them with ilomilo.  Thankfully, they delivered a game that lived up to all hopes and expectations.

ilomilo is a different take on your everyday puzzle game.  You independently control two characters, ilo & milo, who want nothing more than to be together.  You start each puzzle with each character usually on different levels or angles of elevation, and you must stand the two next to each other to complete the puzzle.  Along the way you can collect little creatures called “safkas” and little pieces of memory fragments to unlock extra levels and content.  But if collection isn’t your cup of tea, no worries.  All that is required for completion of each puzzle is that you find a way to reunite ilo & milo.

So here’s what we liked:

Overall artistic value
– The first thing you will notice about ilomilo is how damn cool it looks.  The characters are very basic but incredibly unique.  The background visuals are similar to something you would find in a Pixar film.  Look close enough and you will see some of your favorite indie game characters hanging around.  Finally, the music is simply amazing.  The fact that you can add your own notes to the theme song in the main menu is pretty damn cool too.  There is also an achievement that requires you to sync your notes with the notes of the theme song which is very unique.  Sure it’s an easy achievement, but nonetheless, it’s one of the most satisfying achievements you’ll ever unlock.

Perfect difficulty
– The puzzles this game presents are right in that middle area where you figure them out just before you are about to get frustrated.  So many puzzle games force gamers to run to YouTube for solutions, but not this one.  As the story progresses, so does your ability to pick up on what the developers intended to teach you on each level.  They keep the mechanics very simple while adding a new element just as you mastered the previous additions.

Non-linear path – We all know how bad it sucks when you are stuck on a level and there’s no way around it.  ilomilo is very open for gamers to decide exactly how they want to move on.  There are 9 puzzles and 3 bonus puzzles per level.  You only have to complete 6 of the 9 puzzles to move on.  As mentioned above, getting ilo to milo is the only requirement for completion.  But if you want to try out the bonus puzzles, you will need to collect all the safkas.

And here’s what we didn’t like:

ilomilo shuffle mini game – It was tough to find something I didn’t like about this game.  But the ilomilo shuffle was very frustrating.  After about 5 tries at this mini game, I was ready to walk away with no intention of ever playing it again.  You control both ilo and milo at the same time with the D-Pad.  The goal is to collect safkas and little white cubes while the ground underneath you transforms and disappears.  If the ground under ilo or milo disappears, then the game is over.  Random luck is the most influencing factor in this mini game.  Sometimes safkas worth the most points appear, and sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes they appear right over  a piece of land that is disappearing, taking away any opportunity to ever score higher.  The game gets incredibly fast paced after about 2 minutes making it nearly impossible to think about anything.  You just end up hitting the D-Pad once and praying for good results.  Not my idea of a good time.

I only played the shuffle mini game because there was an achievement attached to it.  You are not required to play it in order to progress through the story, it’s simply an added feature.   It really is the only underwhelming aspect of this game but it is hardly a game breaker.  This is an excellent game for any puzzle gamer.  Though like many puzzle games, one play through is about all you will get out of it.  ilomilo has a fairly low replay value as you tend to remember the tricks to each puzzle the second time through.  But even with one very solid play through, this game is well worth the 10 dollar price tag.

Score:  Buy it!