Lili reminds us how far mobile and tablet gaming has come, along with how much further it needs to go. Visually, BitMonster's Unreal Engine-powered effort sits right up there with the best looking titles on the App Store, thanks to a gorgeous world that would have been praised on the original Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube. Even more so, considering all the tiny details and superior resolution that graphics aficionados will appreciate. As a full-fledged experience, it falls somewhat flat, with an awkward protagonist, bizarre combat (if you can call it that) and questionable dialogue. It's enjoyable, but an extra layer of character and story development could have gone a long way.
To that end, the game's heroine, Lili, sails to a mysterious island called Geos, populated by a strange collection of wooden creatures, as well as a group of antagonistic Spirits that run amok. Upon arriving, she bumps into both, eventually falling under the tutelage of a Trainer that sends her on various missions to give those rascals what for. Not a bad premise, but one that lacks the sort of emotional punch we've come to expect from the highest quality adventures. Dialogue and those wooden figures have a very old school NES quality that works both for and against the game. On one hand, you may appreciate the outright silliness of the writing, and names like Mrs. Skillit (she cooks), Mr. Letterman (the mailbox that vomits letters...quite humorous, actually) and Mr. Shoppington (the shop owner, of course). Conversely, we expect a bit more sophistication from such ambitious projects. Acceptable in 1989, a bit awkward in 2012. Even Lili is a bit of a drag, far too accepting of her situation, and reminiscent of the largely forgotten and nerdy Lester the Unlikely on Super Nintendo, at least in terms of appearance. Then again, it's refreshing to see a female video game character that doesn't fall into usual stereotype.
Then we have Lili's interaction with the Spirits, which ultimately boils down to catching up to these rambunctious bullies, jumping onto their backs and picking a set number of white flowers from their heads by pressing one and then quickly swiping upwards. There's a bit of complexity involved, especially when it comes to using a variety of items to get within range and then avoiding thorns and bombs, but eventually, we craved more variety to the gameplay.
At the same time, there's a lot to like, perhaps love, about Lili. The controls are among the finest we've seen in a 3D game, where players tap once or twice to instruct her to walk and run, respectively, then maneuver the camera to guide Lili throughout the world. While not perfect by any means, it beats fumbling with virtual analog sticks.
There's also the exploration element to consider, which the developers nailed, more or less. From a plethora of locked doors to hidden treasure chests, breakable pots and new characters to discover, Lili has more than enough content to keep players enthralled for hours. The fact that the game keeps a detailed log of collected items, Lili's inventory and characters met adds to this level of immersion, despite the white and subsequently bland menu screens.
Of course, it's easy to lose yourself within Geos, since the game's gorgeous environments pull you in the moment Lili steps foot on the island. Prepare to marvel at huge stone buildings, lush forests overflowing with plants, smooth wooden textures and even tiny things like butterflies, birds flying overhead and the way Lili's accessories move about as she runs. It's the sort of thing that makes us excited for the future.
Granted, the game could have been better, and will mostly likely evolve (at least we hope) with future updates. For now, Lili's an attractive and largely entertaining trek through one of the most impressive virtual worlds ever seen on a portable device. Thankfully, there's more to it than eye candy, and this substance outshines the negatives. Worth five bucks? Absolutely.
What's Hot: Immersive and beautiful world, using items to trick Spirits, searching for hidden collectibles, touch-friendly controls.
What's Not: Story needs a little kick, defeating Spirits eventually grows tiresome, the occasional crash.