I have spoken before about the power of mobile platforms for returning us to the days of small team development. Lili is an outstanding example of what happens when a small team of talented developers works on a mobile project.
Six veteran developers from Epic Games founded BitMonster, and in seven months, released Lili. In that time, they produced a high-quality iOS title, showing both their own skills, and what can be done with the current level of technology and a small team.
The story and writing for the game are lighthearted and very tongue-in-cheek at times. The protagonist, Lili, is on a journey from her school of magic to find the rare flowers of the island, Geos. Upon finding the island, she discovers that there is conflict between the inhabitants, with some dark undertones, and she is swept into the conflict, such as it is.
Your goal, as the protagonist, is to collect flowers by picking them from the ground or... “deflowering” the spirits that inhabit the island. (Yes, you are literally removing flowers from their backs during combat sequences. And yes, the word “deflowering” is used in game dialogue.)
There are two main mechanics to the game: collecting flowers by plucking them from the ground and collecting flowers by yanking them from the back of the belligerent spirits that inhabit the island while she rides them like a bronco. There are some other challenges mixed in, to break up the pacing and gameplay a bit, but fundamentally that is the focus of the game. It’s light entertainment, very much in the vein of Infinity Blade or Fruit Ninja, from a gameplay point of view.
In addition, there is a “Kid” difficulty level, which makes it a great game to introduce children to something other than Angry Birds.
One issue I did run into that was particularly frustrating at times, was that it is possible to get into a loop where you spawn and are knocked back into a corner by a defender... and then when you try to leave it happens again. And again. It’s possible to get out of the loop, but it usually takes a few tries, and is rather frustrating in the process.
The screenshots speak for themselves. Running on the Unreal Engine, the anime-style Polynesian environment is beautifully designed, textured, and rendered. Characters are distinctive and well-animated. Overall, the game had a cohesive feel to its art direction, highlighting one of the things that is far easier to get right with small-team development done under the same roof.
On the technical side of things, there were a few instances where I found myself rotating the camera out of the game world, but it was not game-breaking. The subtle use of lighting and shader effects was done well, and was unobtrusive.
Good design here for the most part. Menus are touch friendly and easy to navigate, with good iconography design. Only minor quibble is that the in-app purchase UI seems a bit minimalist (in certain places it isn’t immediately obvious that an IAP is required until tapping on it).
Controls are well-handled for a 3rd-person exploration game. One tap to put the character into motion, rotate the view by tap and drag, double-tap to run, and tap once again to stop moving. Flowers are picked from the ground by tapping and dragging, which is instantly intuitive. Combat is swipe-based, where you attempt to pluck the flowers from the backs of the spirits, or sweep away hazards.
The audio for Lili is solid. The musical score is good, and the sound effects are designed and used well. Dialogue for the characters is handled with a hint of real language, but is fundamentally gibberish, which does well at giving you the sense of dialogue, without a ton of recording sessions, cost, and the memory requirements, which will destroy you on mobile development.
Lili is an excellent first title from BitMonster. The game has received some abuse on the App Store for being incompatible with 4th generation iPods (at this time), but the fact that the description clearly states this, puts the fault clearly at the feet of the purchaser. The only issue I had was occasional crashes, which is likely memory-use related, as Unreal Engine titles and their assets will take up every ounce of resources your device has to offer.
If a fun, simple RPG is what you’re in the mood for, with great visuals and audio and straightforward controls, you can’t really go wrong with this one.