IO is a physics puzzle game developed and published by Gamious. The player assumes the role of a ball which has the ability to change sizes in order to complete puzzles and reach the end of the level. The game features a ton of different puzzles to solve requiring different tactics such as moving objects and fluctuating size to launch from one pad to another. While the concepts aren't always wholly original, toying with physics in IO doesn't feel quite like any other game.
The premise of IO is that you are a ball, somewhere in the deep depths of space, with the goal of reaching the end of a stage to continue on, and you will need to problem solve to succeed. Typically, you need to roll around and change sizes to fit in a hole, gain speed for a jump, or use external objects to help you in your quest. The game offers a ton of levels, which are generally short, and when you reach the end of the level you unlock the next stage.
IO is very simple to control. You use the left analogue stick to move and the right analogue stick to change your size. The other buttons are mostly for controlling the menus. The tricky part is alternating the sticks in an intelligent fashion to complete the presented obstacle. The player sees a zoomed out view of the stage when it begins, and you are heavily encouraged to plan out your move, because as soon as you shrink, the camera zooms in, and you can only see your very near surroundings. As soon as you enlarge in size, the camera also zooms back out and you can again see the entire stage again. This can be hindering when you go for a jump and can't see the progress you make until you either successfully land or fall into oblivion, but it does add a unique mechanic to the game even if flawed.
This game features a ton of levels (225 when all said and done) and they are grouped into six different level packs (25 levels per pack) and a few bonus packs such as Impossiball and Incrediball for those who want a greater challenge. The levels are often short, ranging anywhere from ten seconds to ten minutes depending on whether you get stuck or the complexity of the level design. Luckily you can play different map packs right from the get go, so if frustrated to the point of quitting, you can try your luck on a different level and return later.
The gameplay is surprisingly diverse for the simple control scheme of IO. Sometimes the level simply requires you to shrink and go under a ceiling, but at other times you need to alternate sizes to get enough speed to climb a wall. There are neat items such as platforms that need to be moved so you can cross deadly gaps and anti-gravity areas that cause you to roll across the ceiling or float up to a new part of the level. I was really impressed with the level design, and each level has a fun title such as Down the Drain or Sherlock that gives you insights on what you will have to do.
Controlling IO is mostly a pleasure. You can change sizes instantly and the sticks do a good job of giving you full control over your ball. Occasionally I found myself frustrated with the mechanics, such as moments where you jump and want to steer yourself in air, and sometimes you can do this without a problem, but at other times, I felt like my ball floated through the air and I had no control over my directionals as I watched myself fall straight back down or was catapulted way too far. There were also a few points with Sonic like ring structures that you had to speed around where the speed and timing seemed arbitrary. Still, most of the time, I was really happy with my ability to maneuver around, and the puzzles were fun to solve. The triangle button lets you instantly restart, so if you mess up, you can quickly retry the level. The difficulty of the game was never overwhelming nor too easy. While some levels are simple and can be completed in mere seconds, usually there is a fun problem to solve or experiment with that won't leave you bored or cursing at your controller.
Visuals and sound
Gamious definitely went for a minimalist graphical style in IO. The background is always black with some stars littering the screen. The platforms and items all tend to have bright colors, but to be honest, I really wanted to see a little more flash from this game. It doesn't have to have the flash and vibrancy of a game like Geometry Wars, but in 2017 I expect to see a little more diversity and intrigue in the games appearance. A change in the background color or some interesting background objects would have been nice to see. I got quite bored of the background even after the first ten or so levels. The IO ball itself is very well detailed, and when it moves quickly, sparks trail behind it.
The sound is well incorporated in the game.
The game has no real sound effects, but there is a very fitting ambient soundtrack that gives the game a relaxing, and occasional exciting feel. I found the soundtrack redundant after playing the game for a while, however, I still enjoyed it and found it to fit the game's isolated world nicely.
The game's complexity often comes from what you need to do with the right analogue stick. To gain speed you need to move while growing then shrinking again at the point where you want to get a boost. This generally works well, but there were times I succeeded in overcoming an obstacle then tried seemingly the same thing again, only to fail to execute getting around a loop or hop over something. Going from smaller to bigger also has it's benefits such as when you must ascend stairs: To do this, you start small, then mid jump, grow bigger with the correct timing to push yourself up over the ledge. This was really cool, and I found this mechanic of increasing size for an extra boost to work flawlessly.
There are other times where you must drop from a ledge, (sometimes into the green portal that signifies the end of the level) and you need to change size mid air or you fall to your demise. This always works well (but man did it hurt when you finished a hard level and failed the jump at the end). When you jump, you will not have a lot of control in the air. It's not like many other games where you can slow down or move left or right in mid-air to alter where you land. This is fine, and it's a mechanic that makes a lot of sense in a momentum driven puzzler; However, there are times you can move slightly to the left or right, and there are other times where this doesn't seem achievable and it becomes a bit frustrating while trying to get an angled jump towards a different platform only to watch yourself tumble back down.
All in all, IO has responsive controls, and most of the mechanics you need to use to change momentum are fun and easy to learn. There are instances where they seem less fluid, but part of what makes IO so good is that uniqueness and how much you learn from experimenting in this game. The tutorial is useful, and I recommend every player completes it, but the beauty of IO is when you finally figure out the right method to triumph over the level and reach the ending portal by toying with ideas and controls.
IO is a physics title that deserves it's own place in the realm of physics/puzzle games and employs some cool mechanics that were fresh and fun to experience. The openness and lack of loading time make this title great for instances when you may not have long to play and want something to keep yourself occupied with for a few minutes. That said, IO has a surprising amount of depth and the game will give you many hours of solid gameplay, especially if you wish to beat the game and collect its trophies. If you like other physics and or puzzle games, IO will be a very worthwhile game in your collection (especially for the small price-tag).
I wish the game was more visually appealing and had more bedazzlement in it's environment, but from the get go it's very clear that Gamious is trying to create a minimalist, isolated atmosphere. The game's mechanics do not always work as well as they could, (when it comes to the screen zooming too far in as you turn smaller or the wall climbing being sometimes frustratingly arbitrary) however IO hits a lot more than it misses. The level design may be my favorite aspect of this game, and the developers did an astounding job incorporating a wide array of elements within the levels to keep the game from ever becoming stale. This game is overall a very good experience that succeeds far more than it fails.
|+Awesome level Design||-Screen zooming in too much while shrinking|
|+Fast paced gameplay||-Visuals are dull|
|+Tons of content||-Mechanics occasionally seem arbitrary|