Many platformers have unique control schemes or gimmicks that differentiate them from their competition. iO – from Gamious Ltd. – combines the physics of a rolling ball with a shrinking/growing mechanism that requires practice and skill to master.
Minimalistic in design, iO takes place entirely on a series of blue tracks. Occasionally yellow lines or blocks will appear to aid in the solving of a puzzle. Any red lines along your path are dangerous and touching them will instantly restart the level. By manipulating your little glowing wheel with the left analogue stick (d-pad is also possible here) you can skid left or right along the stages, building up momentum to leap across chasms or speed along a straight line. The right analogue stick allows you to shrink by pushing down, or grow by pushing up. When you do this it also affects your momentum, either dampening it or boosting it exponentially depending on which size you choose to become. Aside from a few other stage surprises that you will eventually run into (portals anyone?), this simple premise is the basis of the entire game.
The levels are fully open right from the start, and you can even hop right into the final stage the moment the game begins if you so choose. There are 10 tutorial levels that will give you plenty of help to learn the ropes and master most of the challenges the game will throw at you. A second set of 150 “original” levels and a third set of 75 highly difficult “irresistible” levels are where the meat of the game lies. These levels range from very easy (just roll across the screen) to quite difficult (the final group of 25 levels are beyond me, no matter how many times I attempt them).
Each stage also has a medal system which awards you based on your completion time. Beating a stage quickly will earn you a gold, while taking sequentially longer amounts of time will earn you a silver, then a bronze, then nothing at all – except for a time code recording signifying you at least made it to the end. By pressing triangle any time during a stage you will instantly be sent back to the beginning, and it makes retrying a stage after you mess up very easy. I really appreciated being able to quick restart as I was dying countless times on certain levels.
Speaking of levels, the 225 included in the game (235 with the tutorial levels counted) will eat up a lot of time if you truly get into what iO has to offer – and if you want to pursue gold medals on all of them, you can look forward to having this bubble on your Vita for a good while.
iO‘s soundtrack consists of a handful of ambient beats that provide a nice background as you work your way through the stages. A calming melody is often accompanied by a relaxed-yet-driving drum beat that creates the perfect atmosphere as you race along. The sound as you make a decision in the menu is a calm chime, and even when you crash or fall on a stage and your wheel bursts into pieces the death sound is just a tone. This all works together to enhance the tranquil setting of the game.
The time I spent with iO was a joy. Even the most frustrating of levels were easy to restart, or even abandon and come back to later if I needed to – and it’s immensely satisfying to climb your first entirely vertical wall, or conquer a level that’s chock-full of hazards and odd mechanics. Even though iO unfortunately does not have a platinum trophy, it does have a nice trophy list that you will be sure to complete if you manage to get every gold medal in the game. All this comes together to point to a single truth, however; if you’re into puzzling platformer games that will test your understanding of how things work, iO would be a wonderful fit for you and your Vita.