IIN makes an incredibly poor first impression. This little puzzle game presents itself as – what we consider to be – the worst parts of LEGO games. If you’ve played the Harry Potter games, you will know what we’re talking about: it’s the sections where you have to awkwardly put Tetris blocks together to make stairways, so that Harry Potter can climb up. They were always clumsy, always terrible, and there’s a good reason that modern LEGO games have abandoned them.
And then in walks IIN, which seems to be a game dedicated to them. We shuddered and thought we were in for a soul-crushing game and review. But while there’s a kernel of truth to the comparison, IIN manages to emerge with a little bit more credit than that.
You are given a puzzle, never more than a game screen in size, and there’s an Incan-looking temple in the corner of it. That temple has a symbol floating above, representing the block that needs to reach it for completion. So, a circle above the temple means the circle block needs to get there, a square means the square block, and so on.
That’s the first half of IIN: this is actually a platform game. It may look clinical and artsy, like so many puzzle games that we see on Xbox (see SiNKR), but it’s got more in common with minimalistic platformers like Thomas Was Alone. Your blocks are little characters that need to hop across gaps and onto platforms to get to the end of a level.
But the other half of IIN is deep in the land of puzzles. You have obstacles between you and the temple. These are spikes, moving platforms, switches, bodies of water and coloured oblongs that have rules applied to them (more on those in a moment). And like Thomas Was Alone, the different blocks have different capabilities. A triangle block can sit on spikes (the spikes are triangular, so there is a loose connection) without exploding, while all of the other blocks cannot. A circle block can float on water, while other blocks sink to the bottom. So knowing which block to take into which situation, in which order, is part of the puzzle in IIN.
Perhaps the triangle block is the one that needs to reach the pyramid. But you also have a circle block, and there’s a stretch of water between the triangle block and the exit. So you move the circle block into the water to create a platform for the triangle block – converting it into a raft, effectively. But you need the circle block as a step in a staircase at the end of the level too, so the triangle block steps on a switch to raise it out of the water. It’s Lost Vikings reduced to boxes.
Things ramp up as the levels go on. In particular, coloured fields appear that play havoc with your block. Purple fields act as a no-go zone for your cursor, yet the cursor is needed to select the block that you want to move. So, you’re having to ‘possess’ a block, move it through the purple field, and then abandon it so that you can use the cursor on that other side. Red fields will destroy a block after a given amount of time, so you have to move fast. Or – perhaps – destroying a block in the red field, respawning where it started, is a good thing.
The puzzle half of IIN is where it shines. The eighty levels only ever require a few steps to complete, but those steps demand lateral thinking. You have your blocks, all with different attributes, and you have the level, with obstacles combining to create unique situations. We were never stuck for more than ten minutes, but we did get stuck, and that’s testament to the knotty puzzles that have been created here.
But it’s the platforming half of IIN that can’t support the game. IIN is built on a physics engine, so blocks teeter when they’re stacked, and they plunge deep into water pools before rising to the surface. The physics feel real and rarely alien, which is credit to the developers. But when the puzzles require precision and exact action, the physics engine becomes a constant ballache.
Build a staircase and you have to align them just-so, otherwise the staircase will fall over before your other block jumps on them, or will topple once it does jump on them. Using blocks as rafts is precarious and slow, as you try to drift in a direction without nudging them off. One particular level can do one, as it requires you to float a circle block across a sequence of fans, but there are spikes at the top of the screen. Using a triangle block as a floating shield from the spikes is the only way to go, but it’s so inexact and reliant on the whims of the physics engine that we bypassed it purely from luck.
And that’s where the LEGO Harry Potter comparison comes in. The stair-stacking sections in those games were simple puzzles on paper, but then gravity and the adhesion of LEGO blocks were added to the equation. They were clumsy, like building LEGO structures by blowing the pieces, rather than using your hands, and there’s something similar at play here. The physics and puzzling butt antlers against each other, and the end result is frustration.
Not every level has this problem, and there’s some sympathy for the player in their design. Often levels can be easy, benign even, and you won’t feel like the physics has tripped you up. But the physics engine watches menacingly.
It’s a shame, as there’s plenty to like about IIN. For a budget title, made even more budget by including it in a value bundle with Goroons (Epopeia’s other title), it’s well-stuffed. There are eighty levels here, and it will take you around three hours to complete. Each level, and we do mean each, has an achievement for completion, so you’re getting 80 individual bloops (12G achievements should be a crime, however). Plus the levels each have a global leaderboard, and we had great fun shooting for them. Look out for Dave Ozzy on the leaderboards – we hit the Top 10 more than once, and IIN is in a sweet-spot of popularity where you can actually make it onto the front page.
Even more so, we found ourselves attributing the little blocks with personality, much like Thomas Was Alone. The versatile triangle block is the go-getter, determined to help but occasionally sinking into the sea. The circle is the uppity one that doesn’t like to get wet and is prissy around spikes. The square is the big lunk, useless at most things. Yeaaaah, reading that back, we probably need to get out more.
Ultimately, IIN is a Jeckyl and Hyde platformer. When it’s more on the puzzle end of things, it’s a Jeckyl, delivering fantastic problems to solve with eureka moments. But when it’s more on the platforming side, it goes full Hyde. The puzzle layouts demand that you wrestle with the game’s love of physics, and you have to balance blocks without teetering over into oblivion. If we had to call it, it’s slightly more Hyde than Jeckyl: IIN is too fiddly, too clumsy, and it’s at odds with the precise nature of its own puzzles.