There's a lot going on in Lili: Child of Geos. Too much to slap you with a witty pair of sentences and run away giggling. So here's some proper paragraphs for you kids as I lead you on a bold coming-of-age adventure where you learn to part with three to five of your dollars but no more than that; an adventure where you learn if great art direction with a bit of humor can make up for some flawed gameplay and a very basic story:
You will take control of Lili: a young crossdressing botanist with daddy issues on a quest to "deflower" a population of anthropomorphic gardens. Okay, okay. That is only technically true, you cheeky reviewer, you. It's a very inclusive, cheerfully bright, and quite original game, although the daddy issues still stand. And in fact they stand in the way of me giving this game an unqualified recommendation.
I'm talking not about Lili the character, but the game itself. It is so proud of its roots that it spends too much time placing them on display rather than nurturing its uniqueness to blossom into a memorable classic. Lili brings a lot to the table, but what's ultimately going to keep you playing (or not) are its story, characters, and setting. Lili: CoG tries to follow the likes of games like Monkey Island by having a story-focused game supported by a strong sense of humor. The story itself is unchallenging, boiling down to: bad guys are bad guys and it's up to you to put things right. Bless it, it tries to do more by giving Lili a personal dilemma that comes into conflict with her objectives, but when it comes time for her to choose, there's really no consequence to the choice you make. Although, I guess we can hand out a gold star for at least letting the player make a choice.
Okay, so the story is middling, what does this have to do with that whole roots/blossoming/flower-metaphors-for-a-game-about-flowers line you were banging on about? Well, presumably if the story is lacking, it could be supported by its humor. And the game has some wonderfully funny moments. Unfortunately, you might just stop playing before you ever get to them. A lot of the jokes in the first areas of the game you explore take the form of references to other games and the games industry, and praise toward the games that inspired Lili. And, as many of us know, references aren't really jokes, especially since you have to have a pretty broad knowledge of games to appreciate most of them. I did get a grin or two out of these, but it wasn't until the second half of the game when the earnest chuckles came; when Lili started being Lili instead of her various daddies' girl.
I know anybody reading the length of this review is probably ready with their metaphorical throwing produce if I don't get to talking about the gameplay soon, but this is a very hippy-dippy, rainbow colored, mostly non-violent, interactive experience and there's a bit more to be said. This game. Is. Beautiful. No, really, it is. The birds even poop rainbows!!! It could sell itself alone on its art direction (it's a shame it comes a bit too close to doing that). Without an army of artists and polygons, Lili creates a vivid, bright, painterly world that is going to stay good looking for decades. The environments feel very open, engaging, and wholely Lili's own. Lili is a realistically proportioned human exploring a luminous world populated by wooden robots and grim-looking masked spirits none of which are short on personality. It's got a bit of a Miyazaki vibe to it, but it's ultimately Lili's own world, and it's truly charming.
Right, gameplay. In Lili, you chase down spirits, jump onto their backs, and try to yank off the flowers that sprout up with your mouse, while avoiding hazards that threaten to knock you off and let the spirit escape: interesting, arcadey, surprisingly challenging as the difficulty ramps up. It's refreshingly different from many other adventure/action/RPG hybrids that will mostly have you swinging a sword around at the things you want maimed. It isn't quite perfect, though. It works okay with mouse controls, but does feel imprecise at times and can get a bit frustrating when the things you want appear in dense clusters of hazards. It seems designed with touch screens in mind, but I only used the mouse, so I can't comment on that implementation.
The RPG elements, especially, seem misguided. Upgrades are handed out at odd intervals and never seem essential, especially with items providing boosts that don't so much compliment your skills in running fast, stealth, and hanging onto enemies, as render them completely irrelevant. The increments from leveling up and getting items aren't entirely unnoticeable, but the RPG elements could have gotten cut and nothing would have been lost. In fact, the stealth aspect to the game is really non-existant. You won't have to worry about things like which way the enemy is facing, what cover you place yourself behind, or the amount of lighting on you. Stealth is merely a stat that determines how close you can get before the enemy automatically notices you. If stealth games really turn you on, as they do me, just know that this isn't a stealth game, but a perfectly fine arcadey affair. And, you know, you can just have a stealth-sandwhich and be invisible, so why the stats at all?
I'll admit, I only played the game on normal difficulty. The game does have easy and hard settings, but as an adult with adequate reflexes, I found Lili to be fairly easy to get through, but challenging to get through well (you are scored for each enemy you face and given a small reward in the form of a mask for doing well). I'd say that makes it ideal, but then, I'm not sure exactly who this game was made for. The simple saccharine story and visuals make it seem like a casual game for parents to play with their children, though I think even with an easy setting, reflex challenges might prove inherently difficult for younger kids. But if it's just meant to appeal to the children of the 90s, now present day indie gamers, the difficulty is on the ball in terms of gameplay. That audience will probably find the story a bit too easy, however (unless you want to get meta and compare Lili - the character's - struggle living in her father's shadow to Lili - the game's - struggle to emerge from the shadow of monumental games like a terribly clever gamer whose review will be super influential).
So who is Lili for? Well, me, I guess. I mostly enjoyed it and I recommend it if you think the strengths I've just beamed into your head outweigh the bits that are mediocre - and those bits are just mediocre, never really bad.