iO is not a complicated game. If anything, you (as the player) are the most complicated element in the equation as the protagonist, a wheel left to the merciless truth of physics, gravity, and momentum.
You are a two-dimensional wheel in a geometric, side-scrolling world. You can roll right, you can roll left, and you can change the size of the wheel at any given time, but using all three of these abilities in conjunction with one another is the only way to succeed. Your goal is to reach the green vortex at whatever intentionally placed point in the level–do this fast enough, and you’ll get a somewhat meaningless gold medal as a reward for efficient progression. But what at first seems like simple puzzle-based level design can and will leave you stumped.
Without a jump button, you’re left to your own devices in order to complete each stage. This pits you directly against the forces of gravity as the game’s environments are specifically structured to be solved with a certain understanding of physics. iO does well to show you the ropes in the beginning, introducing you to a few integral capabilities as you progress through the first group of levels.
Blue lines are traversable, you just have to utilize the shape of your landscape in order to pick up enough speed to accomplish your goal. Red lines aren’t so friendly, however, and will cause the wheel to explode upon contact. Yellow shapes are thankfully more helpful as you can move them if you hit them with the right speed, angle, and momentum. These three colors constitute the core of iO, but those are just the basics. Other environmental elements like purple teleporters and segments of reverse gravity (with reverse controls) continue to keep a healthy balance between challenge and fun.
While each of the 225 levels promotes some specific sort of mechanic born from the simple control scheme, iO‘s sense of progression feels odd. Even after the tutorial levels, many borderline instructional stages sporadically separate the challenging levels. The disparity between an easy level and a much larger, more difficult stage is jarring at times, but they are appreciated after a grueling battle against gravity. iO can only get so intense, however, so none of these mental breaks are completely necessary.
iO‘s soundtrack attributes to the lack of intensity in the best possible way. The game’s soundtrack matches the minimalistic design of the entire game, and each ambient track goes hand in hand with iO‘s sound effects. Developer Gamious really nailed it here. The entire presentation from controls and thoughtful puzzles to aesthetic and audio design is pretty superb. Life could not be more chill than when playing iO…for the most part.
As fast as the time flies when having fun with iO‘s physics, there’s not much else to keep me coming back. It really has a few clever moments that force you to use your limited capabilities in new, inventive ways–that does not go unappreciated. It’s eight bucks of your time that is unexpectedly dense with simplistic creativity for your brain to chew on, but it won’t keep your eyes (or heart) glued to the screen.
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