Once upon a time, there was a boy named Inco, who was watching the stars go dark. He didn’t know what was happening, only that something was wrong. Then he met Helios, the last living star, and a friendship and a journey began.
That’s the beginning of Incoboto, a puzzle platformer that feels like a moody fairy tale. You play Inco, a blocky little spaceman running and jumping around a series of small planets, searching for the reason that the stars have gone out. Each planet is covered with bizarre machines left behind by a mysterious corporation, and Inco must figure out how to use them to get from one world to the next.
Inco’s journey would be a lonely one if it weren’t for Helios, the hungry star that follows him around, helping when it can. Helios has the endearing speech patterns of a two-year-old and a puppy-like enthusiasm; his constant presence is comforting. He’s also essential to progressing in the game: collect star pieces for him to eat and he can open up gates to new star systems.
Yes, this is the classic ‘collect stars to unlock new levels’ game mechanic seen in countless iOS games. Incoboto owes a lot to other games, from the little planets of Super Mario Galaxy to the mysterious Sign Painter of World of Goo, and platformer fans will not be surprised by anything they see.
What the game lacks in innovation, though, it makes up for in execution. The puzzles are goofy, but logical. The game steadily introduces switches and moving parts and throwable objects, setting up simple puzzles to demonstrate how each new element works before presenting more complicated challenges. Signs with hints are scattered all over, and they’re fun to read even when you know what to do next. Many objects can be used in different ways, or are useful in several nearby puzzles. For example, there are power cells that you can throw at targets, or explode under yourself for to boost your jump.
The controls are simple and responsive. Put a finger anywhere on the screen and Inco runs right or left. Swipe or tap to jump. As the game progresses, Inco gets new gear with new powers. Each gadget’s controls are easy-to-learn gestures that make sense on an iPad.
Flying a little close, aren’t we Icarus?
The controls do have a flaw: the activation spots for objects are small. If you tap to activate a switch and are just a little bit off, you’ll jump instead. Inco can’t die and there’s no permanent failure in the game, but there are many time-limited puzzles where one misstep forces you to try again.
That said, this minor frustration is outweighed by the game’s strengths. It looks beautiful, it’s fun to play, and the pacing is superb. The next starpiece is always nearby. Helios gets ‘Full!’ and introduces you to new worlds every ten to fifteen minutes. There’s always something to see and do.
And just when you think you’ve seen it all, and that the rest of the game might be a bit of a slog, you get one last gadget that totally changes Inco’s relationship with the game’s environment. When this happened, we could feel the game accelerating in a controlled rush to the end. It was a powerful, joyful feeling, and you don’t get that often enough in games.
Incoboto’s thoughtful design makes it accessible to new players and satisfying to longtime platformer fans. Don’t hesitate to take this journey with Inco and Helios, because there are wonderful things to see and do along the way.