There’s a lot to be said for a simple puzzle game. Where AAA titles feed you distractions at almost every turn, sometimes we just want to sit down and play a game with a simple goal. iO, from Holland-based developers Gamious, has a goal that is rather straightforward: roll the ball from the start to the green exit portal. In our way, however, are gaps, loops, inclines and even portals. Using the physics of its game world we must figure out the fastest way to get to our goal.
Controlling the wheel is pretty simple, the left stick moves us left or right and the right stick grows or shrinks our wheel. Use these two aspects together correctly and all of a sudden you’ll find yourself whizzing around the levels in no time. The physics of iO are its lynchpin, without them iO would be a rather boring game to play. By changing the shape and speed of the wheel, impossible-looking levels suddenly become less so when you understand how everything fits together. For example, starting off as a large wheel going downhill will gain momentum - reducing the wheel’s size at the right time will suddenly cause it to career up the hill and off into oblivion. Later on there are levels requiring you to move and manipulate other objects. It’s a touch unnatural at first but finessing your size (and subsequently its mass) as well as your speed soon became second nature.
There are over two hundred levels to test your mettle and while the first few slowly introduces you to core concepts on how to traverse the levels, you'll often find unique ways to conquer each level. There are three level packs which, with the exception of the ten tutorial levels, are then further divided into packs of twenty-five. These can be tackled in any order with no level locking or requirements in order to tackle the fiendishly hard later levels. Furthermore, every level is timed and to be awarded a gold medal we really had to get timings down to a fine art. Overall this wasn’t too bad except when the level required us to shrink in order to catapult ourselves over large gaps. Here the camera zooms right in, meaning we were completely unaware as to how near or far we were from our goal. On more than one occasion it lead to us pulling up short, much to our frustration. It seems silly that a game that leans heavily on timing and accuracy would remove any way of knowing where you are in a level for no reason other than to perhaps amplify the feeling of speed.
Visually iO seems to have been influenced by the movie Tron. Its colour palette, whilst limited, certainly leans towards the neon variety and is rather striking against the black background. Menus are tidy and well presented with navigation a breeze. The levels themselves are also very clean and sharp which helped focus our attention on the puzzle at hand. Some levels make it quite clear on how to get to the green exit portal whilst others require a fair bit of planning to navigate. There were plenty of levels that required several attempts before successful completion. Some of them, however, were a little obtuse but with persistence we were able to overcome most obstacles thrown our way. iO is the sort of game which, while frustrating, begs you to continue if only because, deep down, you know you can beat the level. Then, all of a sudden, another hour or two has passed and you just have to beat this one last level before calling time.
There’s no multiplayer to speak of in iO which in the grand scheme of things makes sense, but then with each level timed it’d be interesting to see how fast some levels could be completed. Coupled with replays we’re sure there’d be plenty of speed runners out there eager to show off their best level times in iO. We would have also loved to have the ability to create our own levels and then share them with the community to see if anyone could match our times. The lack of these features certainly feels like a missed opportunity if only to bulk things up just a little.
Whilst having hundreds of levels to choose from, once you’ve completed them all there’s little else to do than to try and beat your own times. Having the ability to challenge a friend, create a track or take on the top leaderboard time would be a welcome distraction. Moreover being able to view their ghost so as to learn how they completed that level would be as equally if not more fascinating.
iO does have a soundtrack of sorts but it’s fairly limited with soft techno style tracks looped as you play. It’s not too bad and while we did notice when the track looped back it wasn’t that noticeable. They have a rather chilled out vibe to them certainly lends iO to being the sort of game you pick when you don’t want to tackle a complex AAA game but still want to give the brain a mental message.
There’s a lot to like about Gamious’ iO from it’s simplistic approach in both its controls and its core mechanics. Whilst they could work on sorting the camera, everything else is pretty tight as we never experienced any other major issues during gameplay. What we like the most is that iO doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is and concentrates solely on being a great puzzle platformer. It comes as no surprise then that by doing so it actually is a great puzzle platformer and one that we’d highly recommend. iO isn’t going to set the world alight nor is it likely to walk away with any awards. However, it does get our seal of approval and if you’re in the market for a game that’s easy to pick up and play yet still provide a challenge then iO is sure to set your wheels alight.