iO Review

By Kevin Tavore,
Indie games are the norm at this point. In recent years we've had hundreds, if not thousands, of small indie puzzle projects across all platforms. They range from all shapes and sizes. Some focus on brutal difficulty while others are meant to relax. Some try to tell a story while others tax your mind for the sake of it alone. They're not all different of course, but the ones that truly excel in such a crowded market are the ones that find a unique gameplay mechanic and wrap the game around it. These games live and die by those mechanics. With iO, that mechanic is the ability to grow your wheel larger and smaller at a moment's notice. The goal is to control momentum, weight, and size to find clever ways to complete each level as quick as possible. It's a neat idea and one that works, but the game's bare bones hold it back from being something truly special.


iO calls itself a physics puzzler and the inspiration is obvious, but its puzzles are not its strength. Almost every level is designed with only one obvious path to completion. The game never challenges you to try any tricks or alternative methods like a normal puzzle game might do. You're never asked to decide which way is the right way. You just follow the line and accomplish the tasks each level is designed around. As a gameplay concept this is fun, but to call it a puzzle game is certainly dishonest if not absolutely incorrect.

iO is actually a physics-based platformer along the lines of Trials Fusion. You control a wheel that can grow smaller or larger at will. Smaller wheels are lighter and more mobile. Larger wheels are heavy and harder to move. Medium-sized wheels offer a compromise and are considerably faster. There are more than three sizes — you control the size by holding up or down on the right stick — so identifying the proper size and making sure you actually get there is something that will require management on the fly as you're rolling or flying through the air at high speeds.

iO

The physics are not quite what you'd expect, but the developer smartly designed the levels to gradually introduce each new bit of physics you'll need to know. The first time you encounter a new mechanic, you'll always have on-screen text explaining what to do. While a few things are a bit vague, such as controlling your speed in the air, the vast majority of the physics are well-explained by these guides. Subsequent levels will slowly teach you how the mechanics work; within a few levels, you'll have mastered a mechanic and will be conquering considerably more complicated levels. This gradual difficulty curve is a gold standard that most physics-based games fail to hit. For iO, it's likely its greatest success. The first time you climb a straight vertical wall by slowly increasing the size of your wheel it will feel amazing. Thirty levels later you'll climb what feels like a skyscraper and the little step you first climbed will seem like a joke in the best way possible.

The interplay between sizes and the game's physics creates interesting gameplay. You'll be able to speed up walls by slowly increasing your size to maintain contact with the wall. You'll hover through rising air by balancing your weight. You'll push blocks and ride wheels. Each of these requires unique skills you'll need to develop while playing as each level will task you to do something different and new. Very rarely is the same mechanic re-used without changing something up, so each of the 225 levels in the game will feel new when you get to it. By keeping things fresh, the game ensures it never overstays its welcome.

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Unfortunately, the game's strengths are balanced by a glaring lack of production values. A visual masterpiece is hardly expected but iO is so plain that the only way to describe it is boring. The entire game is played on blue platforms with red signifying bad platforms and yellow signifying movable objects. It's all set to a black background. There's nothing that ever grabs your attention. There's no attention to detail as there is no detail. A game with this style can be successful — Thomas Was Alone is probably the best example, but that game used colors to create characters and emotions and it played a part in the game's story. It embraced its simplicity and gave players a way to fill in all the details themselves. iO has no characters or story, of course, so what we're left with is a visual style that can be most favorably described as sterile. I'd expect more of any game with any budget.

Beyond completing the levels, the game doesn't offer much else to do other than go back to them. Like Trials, you're awarded medals for completing the levels quickly. Gold medals are the highest and the times don't require perfection, which is refreshing considering how difficult it would be. These medals can be fun enough to chase, though they likely won't hold your attention too long unless you've got a strong desire to complete the game in its entirety. With no other game modes or really anything else to do outside of replaying levels, once you've played through the levels once there's not much incentive to return to the game.

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The achievements are simple. You'll get achievements for every 25 levels you complete. As you earn medals, you'll get achievements to mark your progress there too. At the end, you'll have the higher point achievements for getting all 225 bronze, silver, and gold medals. Wrapping it up are achievements you'll get over time for growing your wheel or shrinking it (the growing achievements seem to not always count, but the tracker does continue to go up slowly so it's not unobtainable). Overall the list is very doable, although it will certainly take some respectable skills and a time commitment to learn all the mechanics.

Summary

iO is a physics-based platformer in the same vein as Trials. There may be no motorcycles, but you'll still be tackling over 200 levels with a variety of physics challenges. The game's unique mechanic is the ability to change the size of your wheel, which affects speed, size and weight. The developer designed the levels to teach the player how the physics work as you play and never once do you feel ill-equipped to handle the challenge ahead. What's there in the game is quite good, the issue is that there isn't very much of it. Once you've had your fill of the challenges in the main game, there's nothing else to do except speed run those same levels again. That on top of a complete and utter lack of production value of any kind leaves the game feeling more like a prototype of a cool idea than a full game. If you're craving a decent platformer then this might be a good option, but there's plenty of similar games that offer more.
5 / 10
iO
Positives
  • 225 levels to play through of varying difficulty
  • Core gameplay mechanic offers plenty of variety and remains interesting throughout all levels
  • New gameplay mechanics are taught while playing in a natural way
Negatives
  • Complete lack of production values leaves the game visually unappealing
  • Nothing to do outside of the main levels
Ethics
The reviewer spent almost seven hours growing larger and smaller to complete over 175 of the game's 225 levels before the difficulty became too high. He collected 21 of 31 achievements for 475 Gamerscore. An Xbox One download code was provided by the ID@Xbox team for the purposes of this review.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.
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