No doubt I’ll get accused of having a cold, cold heart by the end of this post, so let me get this out of the way up front: ilomilo is a very well-made game, it’s clever and engaging, and it’s totally worth the ten bucks it costs on Xbox Live Arcade.
You play as a couple of plushy guys who have to navigate a world made up of fabric cubes in order to meet up with each other, at which point you both do a little dance and the level’s over. The level design and puzzles are very clever and imaginative, the art’s nice, the music’s catchy, there’s even an achievement where you have to play the game’s theme by selecting items in the main menu, and it’s all cute and polished (there are occasional typos, perfectly understandable from a Swedish development studio). A completely non-violent, cooperative game that doesn’t insult your intelligence and shows a high level of attention to detail? That’s exactly what the industry needs.
Except I came to a point where the whole illusion was shattered and the game suddenly and violently stopped being charming. It was around the level that’s an homage to World of Goo — a very nice touch, since the inspirations from that game are clear. Not in the gameplay mechanics, but in presentation: there are obvious things like the big collector device that comes down to pick up your collected leaves, and also the overall tone of the presentation, with its random goofy “character background” descriptions during level loads. The whole game feels like a mash-up of World of Goo with LittleBigPlanet and Super Mario Galaxy and Machinarium and probably others I’m either forgetting or have never seen.
But it creates a cuteness overflow error, where trying to add one more to the cuteness level turns the whole thing negative and makes it repulsive. Okay, “repulsive” is too strong — maybe “forced” is more accurate. It no longer feels genuine, but more like an endearing quirk that’s mutated into an insufferable affectation.
It doesn’t keep the game from being fun or imaginative, and it doesn’t keep it from getting a recommendation from me. But I’m bringing it up not just to be curmudgeonly, but to request that it doesn’t become a trend among the indie game community. I’d hate to see “like LittleBigPlanet” become a thing just like the clones of Diablo, StarCraft (which borrowed everything it had from Aliens), Battlefield, and so on. A huge part of the appeal of these games is that they break through the norm and exist as celebrations of pure originality.