I enjoy a creative physics game, but it’s hard to do it right. Playing around with things like gravity and speed in creative ways is super volatile. Too little and it’s not interesting or different. Too much and it’s a nightmare to play. It’s the reason you don’t see it happen too often outside of small puzzle indie games. But when it’s done right you get games like Super Mario Galaxy which is still one of my top funny physics franchises of all time. I gave the recently released (2/14/2017) iO by Gamious Ltd a chance because I was just curious about what they had accomplished with such a simple looking game. Sadly I was left less than satisfied.
The graphics in iO are simple. It’s low budget, but not in the negative sense of the word. I wouldn’t go as far as saying elegant, which I definitely overuse when reviewing indie games. Maybe quaint is the right word. The whole game is made up of thick block lines appearing in mostly blue with a few more lines in white, yellow, and red. All the text is white and the backgrounds are black with small twinkling lights to represent stars. The most interesting looking things in the game are the “ball”, which is really a disc because the game is 2D, and the exit portal. The ball is three-layered white circles with black, orange, and grey appearing inside the largest circle and constantly changing based on your current size. The exit portal is a green swirling whirlpool. The text is a very readable Arial font which always appears in white except for a few places in the credits where it’s yellow. The lines are placed in different layouts at different lengths and angles to create the levels. There is no HUD.
I really like the menus. These I actually might say are elegant. All the menus across the game are made up of spinning circles with a dashed blue line on the outside and a rotating dashed white line just on the inside. Inside the bottom of the circle is a light blue half circle but it’s really not half the size of the overall circle. In the main menu this circle design is used to make a pentagon of smaller white circles around a larger middle circle. In the world select screen it’s a triangle of circles and in the main world level select menu it’s a hexagon of circles. I won’t say that the graphics impressed me overall, but I very much liked them.
In theory, this is a simple game to play. But this is a physics gravity puzzle game so that theory is shot out of a cannon into space only to hopefully land in a black hole which is the exit portal. The point of the game is to drive the “ball” through the level into the exit portal. For starters there is no default direction. Each of the 235 levels is different and can have a completely random layout. The exit portal can be anywhere on the screen depending on the level. The controls are fairly simply, but again that’s only at face value.
All you can do is roll left or right with the left stick, d-pad, or triggers and grow or shrink with the right stick or d-pad. That’s it, but with just those simple controls you can accomplish so much. The game makes use of things like momentum and potential energy. These things must be taken advantage of to build or decrease speed. You can spin in either direction even while in the air and change spin direction whenever you want. But changing direction of the spin doesn’t necessarily do much if you already have too much speed. You can grow or shrink to a maximum and minimum size just as easily and quickly as you can change spin direction and it does have an effect on your speed and movement potential. This is where the game gets tricky. There are weird ways to build speed like shrinking while moving. I don’t really get the explanation behind this but it’s how the game works. You must take advantage of this at inclines in order to launch yourself across gaps. It’s very challenging, but not in the right way.
The overall problem with the gameplay is that odd physics and momentum tricks like launching aren’t consistently executable. You will end up going off the same jump multiple times feeling like you did it correctly but not getting the launch momentum you need to clear the gap. Then you’ll end up making the launch and over shooting the target. It’s irritating moments like these that make the game more annoying than entertainingly challenging. The secret to a good puzzle game is making the player feel like they just aren’t good enough but everything makes perfect sense and is totally doable if you just play better. While I’m positive this game has a consistent physics system that can be executed with perfect results every time, it doesn’t actually feel like that when you’re playing it. Too much of it feels more like luck than skill, which makes the whole experience disappointing in the long run.
The many different puzzles have all sorts of challenges requiring you to do things like roll up walls and even around spirals. There are large gaps to jump, obstacles to climb over, and objects to avoid. You can’t move blue objects but some of them move on their own. Yellow objects can be moved while you’re bigger because you have more weight. Red objects cannot be touched on pain of death. Falling to your doom is also a cause of death. The game has an instant reset which can also be initiated by pushing the triangle button. You always start at the very beginning of the level. The game is made up of 10 tutorial levels, 150 regular levels, and 75 special challenge levels. The game records completion time for each level and stores your best time. You can be awarded a bronze, silver, or gold medal based on your completion time but if you are too slow you don’t get a medal at all. The game will still count the level as completed though.
What was really nice about iO is that you can play any of the 235 levels in whatever order you want regardless of what you’ve already beaten. The levels are separated into level packs containing 25 levels each to make things more navigable. The display for each pack shows you how many levels you’ve completed within it and in the level selection screen you can see your time and medal for each puzzle. My biggest complaint other than the inconsistent physics is definitely the camera. You have no control over it. The terrible thing is that it zooms in and out based on your size. This is troublesome because when you’re really small the camera zooms in so far that you can’t see the rest of the level, making it really hard to plan and adjust your moves for more complicated levels. When you’re fully grown the levels are super zoomed out making everything, including the level itself, seem super small. I really would have preferred just having a static camera that showed the whole level. Conceptually I really liked this game and appreciated the simple goal. But the execution isn’t perfect and you will feel that as a player.
The sound isn’t bad in this game but you have no volume options. The only sound option you have is music on or off. Let me tell you that the only correct answer is on. The music is very pleasant in this game. Calming is the best way to describe it. The main menu song is probably my favorite track. It’s a very mellow track that teeters on jazz. Throughout the game there are other songs, all of which are also very calm and walk the line between light trance and jazz. This was one of those special games where I was able to write the review while playing the music in the background. The one flaw of the music in iO is the really noticeable gaps in the loops. Sometimes you have silence for quite a while.
The sound effects aren’t super impressive in this game. It’s just some menu navigation sounds and special tones for dying and completing levels. Overall I was happy with the sound but not really impressed by it.
There isn’t really any writing in the game except for the tutorials and the names of levels. This is one of those games where the level name tries to vaguely describe what the level is about. Other than in the menus and credits, the only place text appears in the game is in the tutorials.
As with all micro puzzle games with medals, the replay value depends on your interest and first run performance. There are 13 trophies including one gold but you can technically get all of them in a single playthrough. All the trophies are based on completing levels and getting gold medals. Four of them are about how many times you grew and shrunk. If you make sure to get a gold medal on every level before moving forward, you should have all the trophies by the time you’ve finished all the levels. Of course that’s assuming you actually have the patience to finish all 235 levels. Each level takes less than a minute so if you aren’t going for the trophies the whole game shouldn’t take you more than five hours including getting stuck. Honestly £6/$8 is a bit much for what this is.
iO is a solid attempt at an innovative quality puzzle game. It gets the general concept right but fails to differentiate itself and ultimately delivers the same experience you get from most games in this genre. Annoying quirks that ultimately make you end up quitting before finishing all the levels. While this wasn’t a terrible game, it’s by no means something you need to play.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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