You don’t always need an in-depth story and you don’t always need the fanciest of visuals. Hell, you don’t even need to worry about complex controls or the most stunning of soundtracks for a game to draw you in.
Which is a bit of luck for the developers at Gamious, because their latest game, iO, has none of those.
What it does have though are a huge array of one hit puzzles; puzzles in which you need to worry about little other than getting your single ball to the end zone in the fastest time possible. Simply put, iO tasks you with moving your ball left and right, gathering speed and utilising both momentum and gravity in order to fire your way past multiple obstacles, up and through tons of roller coaster style designs, before heading on towards the single wormhole which is hidden within.
Speed, and the gathering of it, are crucial and this is made all the easier by being able to increase or decrease the size of your ball, on the fly. This is actioned by pushing or pulling on the right thumbstick until you get the desired size for the task at hand… a bigger ball will roll slower uphill, but its sheer size and mass is critical when heading down a slope so you can then in turn transfer that energy into a huge jump.
You’ll also need to be able to squeeze your way through the tiniest of gaps, climb huge sheer cliff faces and dodge deadly red lines as you do so. This is where you’ll need to be of a smaller size and so the growth and shrinkage of your ball, multiple times in a few short seconds, is what will see you succeed in iO.
The mechanics behind all this are pretty smooth and utterly fluid, and it’s a cinch to run through multiple sizes in mere seconds. But it’s not perfect and the slight lack of feel you get in changing orb size isn’t intuitive for a game that plays on feel. During size changes, the screen will also zoom in or out, depending on the way you are morphing the ball, and this really does confuse matters a little too much – especially when there is little chance of having a full overview of each stage. When you’re trying to make a precise jump, but can’t see your landing spot, meaning everything boils down to trial and error, then something isn’t quite right.
That frustration is emphasised in the stages which come with moving parts and will often leave you having to rely on memory, and luck, from previous attempts in order to help you through; because there is a huge emphasis placed on both those things should you wish to beat the 200+ levels found in iO. But that said, each and every stage is open and playable from the very start, so should you wish to skip the tutorial stages, and head straight on into the main event, then you can. Be aware though as doing so will mean you’ll miss out on a whole load of well fed learning opportunities, leaving you flummoxed as to how to complete certain stages. And that’s before you drop into the super hard Impossiball, Impeccaball and Incrediball levels which contain some real tough cookies.
Strangely though, you may just find yourself lucking your way through matters and it’s a bit of a weird feeling to get completely stuck on one of the latter levels, before skipping it and finding yourself instantly hit with a gold medal time on the very next one. There is no real sense of increasing difficulty in iO and once you’ve mastered the basics, will probably be able to bluff your way through much of what is put in front of you – luck dependant of course.
You see, whilst the puzzling aspect included in iO is pretty great, it does occasionally feel like luck plays a much more important factor in your progress. This isn’t too bad as most of the levels can be completed, restarted, or failed, in just a few quick seconds, but I’d personally like to feel that it is my skill that is winning, or indeed losing, the day.
One thing you’ll never be able to complain about though is regarding the amount of content or replayability options available in iO, as with no less than 225 stages and gold, silver and bronze medals to go for in each one, there will always be something to push your competitive nature. You’ll need a bit of willpower as well, if only because the difficulty of obtaining all golds seems a nigh on impossible option.
With many of those gold medals out of the question for a regular gamer, it would have been nice to have seen some kind of worldwide leaderboard available, if only so I can see how badly I’m doing against those on my friends list. Timed stages are brilliant opportunities for bragging rights and Gamious are most definitely missing a trick by not giving gamers the chance to share and compare.
In the end though, iO proves that you don’t need a great story, you don’t need stunning visuals, you don’t need complex controls and you don’t need a banging soundtrack. You will however need to be a certain type of gamer to enjoy all the stages that iO delivers, but should you be a puzzle fiend and in the market for a clever, albeit slightly frustrating, abstract brain taxer, then you could do worse than check it out.