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Armillo Review: Big Ball of Fun
Less is more as the saying goes, but thankfully games like Armillo make the effort to make more of everything. A 3D action puzzle platformer of finesse and action frenzy, Fuzzy Wuzzy Games’ big ball of fun is as much a mouthful to describe as it is to experience all wrapped up in its own imperfect mix of retro gameplay in a modern paint job. You may see and feel every bit of old-school gaming everywhere you look, but Armillo is hardly yesterday’s news.
Slapping together the best of both worlds and getting just a bit less back, Armillo tips its hat to the best of them while earning a good word itself. Armillo’s story is a rather simple one. You’re a humble, round, orange armadillo capable of intergalactic travel who finds his hometown under attack by an evil force, the Robotic Darkbots. Enslaving its inhabitants, and capturing his brother, the Darkbots forcing Armillo to roll into action and travel across the galaxy to stop their evil plans. From Super Mario Galaxy to Super Monkey Ball, with a just a dash of “Marble Madness” thrown in for flavor, Armillo aims high in its lofty inspirations. The size and scope of its levels are nothing but ambitious given its humble indie origins, and their variety of rolling plains to snow-flaked winters show off their admirable eye to detail. And the worlds in which you’re dumped are free of any tutorial tedium. The game hardly holds back from the get-go and you’re refreshingly left on your own to start dashing your way to freedom.
Controlling the game’s orange protagonist (and his blue brother a little later) is Armillo’s truest joy. Like any old-school arcade machine, you roll Armillo back and forth across his world like a pinball gone crazy, dodging boulders, lasers and the occasional UFO. The Wii U gamepad’s tilt controls handle great and are accessible for anyone to pick up, plus there’s an option to use the GamePad’s accelerometer should you be up to “boosting” into rocks and enemies at lightning speed. There’s two main actions you can perform, jump and boost, which, when tied together, can be used to give yourself a lengthier boost that’s certain to be popular with speed-runners. Off-screen play is also available, and even recommended for having tenser levels closer to your face when playing.
In “Armillo’s World” and later ones, power-ups are scattered across the land mass for Armillo and his brother to use. Some will have varied effects, making Armillo bigger, smaller, or giving him an extra life or heart, or even extra time. Say you get three seconds to get back to the rocks you need to be blow up via dynamite, so you’ll need to carefully backtrack to the right spot. That’s good, because there’ll be lasers to be dodged, puzzles to be solved and platforms to be jumped on and off. Some enemies will shoot at you, which will either damage you, make you much slower, or even inverse the controls. Sometimes you’ll need to turn into a cube to get past enemies or rocks boost across a sizable gap, or shoot darkbots. It’s times like these that Armillo has a lot going on, and it’s 60 frames-per-second sometimes suffers for it.
Though it may only last a second or two, it nevertheless detracts a bit of the immersion. Armillo‘s art style is endearing, its voice work checks out and its soundtrack is stellar, but it can’t often escape its lack of polish at several crucial junctures, namely its 2D levels. In these secret levels unlocked through the game’s campaign, you play from a topdown view down to something more akin to the 2D Sonic platformers of their comparison. Unfortunately, they don’t quite feel as fluid as their 3D peers. Jumps aren’t often as responsive and the timer can seem a bit too fast, making each level more difficult than need be. Still, each 2D level’s share of delightful 8-bit music makes them worth trying.
Each level further boasts portals to their own “parallel universe,” a kind of dark world threatening to suffocate poor Armillo after the timer runs out. These include the most developed puzzles and it certainly uses it. Sometimes hints will be given in the dark world, which you’ll need to use in the adjacent “light” world like switches that need to be tapped in order. Given time, the puzzles are certainly taxing, but add some satisfying stress to the experience.
For each level’s finale, you’ll find a sort of lunar boost pad, which gives you a specific amount of time to horse as many of the game’s orb currency as you can according to how many of Armillo’s blue critter friends you’ve saved along the way. These orbs are collected in all levels and levels’ moons, and can be spent in the in-game shop to boost Armillo’s powers, making him stronger, giving him more hearts or lending him additional time in the field.
Armillo may take you about six to seven hours, but revisiting levels rewards you with at least a dozen challenging hours collecting everything by beating your old scores. By its conclusion, Armillo may weave its way into some surprising twists for what story it may bring, if its sheer fun of exploration wasn’t fun enough. As a tribute and as a standalone title, Armillo effectively breaks the mold in as many ways as it champions it with all the enthusiasm and passion deserved of its amicable nature. Its quirks could ask for a bit more polish, but its charm can’t be beat for a few bucks on the eShop for a rocking good time.