iO is beautiful and infuriating in its simplicity. A colourful little physics based platformer where the player controls a ball that can shrink and grow to overcome obstacles and puzzles. It’s simple, get the ball from A to B, don’t touch red, yellow moves if you touch it, blue moves on it’s own. Green is the goal. White is floor, we like the floor.
Simple right? Bollocks is it. You have to manipulate the ball’s size in order to alter its momentum to overcome certain terrain. You can change it’s size in order to climb walls and wall jump. You also need quick reactions to change speed, direction and size all in an instant.
Simply put, iO looks simple but in practice is the most difficult thing ever. It suckers you in by looking pretty and easy at first then it takes a sinister turn… but on to the review!
Gameplay is great, the game is difficult but never feels impossible. You’ll make fast progress through a whole bunch of levels until hitting a wall. Then you’ll bend your brain around corners to figure it out, throwing yourself at the situation from every which way until you finally get it. But saying that makes it sound like there’s only one solution. You’ll notice there’s the obvious route and attempt it a hundred times before thinking “Hey, what if I go *this* way?”. With a couple tweaks sure enough you’ll bodge an answer and make it to that sweet green oblivion. It’s tough but never impossible and that’s the sign of a great platformer.
Quick reflexes are needed to survive and clear challenges, but they don’t do you any good if the controls aren’t just as responsive. iO doesn’t suffer that draw back or let down. Being grounded in momentum physics your little wheel will often feel like it’s doing it’s own thing but that’s just physics at work. It did everything you told it to that it could. It’s not going to suddenly change direction in air, nor will it stop rolling down a hill and reverse up it at the drop of a hat. It’ll change size and mass exactly when you tell it to and it will try to change direction as quickly as possible too. But the laws of physics are laws for a reason.
Graphically the game isn’t intense but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a physics based platformer after all. Some simple line art and nice colourations are all you need. There’s some awesome particle effects when you die or when you reach the goal but that’s it really. The level will hangs in front of a starscape backdrop that becomes more or less visible as the camera zooms in and out with the size of the ball. However that’s very much just a backdrop and for the most part you’re able to focus on the task at hand, which is perfect. Sure it can be a little sparse at times but that’s okay, you’re mostly focused on beating that jump, clearing that wall jump or just making it to the goal in a reasonable time.
One thing I love about iO is it’s smooth and calming soundtrack. The music in the game isn’t overpowering nor is it particularly heavy. It provides a calming atmosphere so that when you get frustrated attempting the same jump and failing 50 times in a row, you aren’t frustrated for long. Its like it’s there to cheer you on, hand you the controller after you’ve thrown it down in anger and say “Come on man, you can do this.”, and sure enough you pick it back up, shake it off and go again. The use of the music in the game gives it a peaceful aura which works perfectly with the sedate carnage it unfurls with each passing level. Slowly but surely the death mazes become more difficult and infuriating but the steadfast and relaxing music is there to make it all seem light and breezy.
iO does a brilliant job of pulling you in with its simple charm and then keeping you going when things get tough. It’s like a lovable puppy that’s just peed on the carpet. Sure you’re mad, but you’re not mad for long. It makes you want to keep playing and keep progressing. So much so that you can clear 100 levels in an hour or so and want to go back and do them again but better. It has so many moments when you go “Aha! I got it!” that’s its incredibly satisfying to clear a challenging level.