It’s easy to write off Lili as some sort of weird children’s game at first glance. After all, it’s an adventure game about picking flowers. But you’d be mistaken, as there’s plenty of fun to be had by casual and hardcore gamers alike. The story follows a young girl named Lili, who happens to be a botany student sent by her teacher to a mysterious island called Geos to learn about some of the various species of magic flora located there. Following her arrival she soon encounters a world inhabited by unfriendly forest spirits and the kind wood-like people called “Constructs” who unwillingly serve the spirits as slaves. After befriending some of the constructs, Lili takes it upon herself to help them, which involves picking some magical flowers off the backs of the spirits which weakens and drives them away.
The debut game from developer BitMonster, Lili is best described as a flower-picking adventure, and is, without question, one of the most graphically attractive and processor-pushing games yet released for Apple’s newer iOS devices. It’s not without its share of technical issues, but those willing to look past her whimsical landscapes and strange premise may find themselves enamored with Lili’s charms, provided they survive long enough to let them bloom.
Thankfully the controls are simple to learn and help make doing this fun, as you just tap the screen to start walking, and double-tap to run. While running, you can slide your finger left or right to steer and look around. When you want to stop, you just tap the screen again. You’ll have a lot of time to get used to the controls as you explore the island and the construct towns you’ll visit. Then there’s the “combat” of picking the flowers off the spirits’ backs, which is more of a mini-game of sorts that is done by running up to one while Lili jumps on their back. When you do so, a grip meter appears along with how many flowers you need to pick off to reach the spirit’s soul flower, which will complete the challenge and allow you to progress further into the story.
Lili will pick away while you frantically swipe away objects such as bombs and thorns the spirits use to get you off of them. Get hit too many times by the bombs or pick too many thorns and Lili’s grip meter will go down until she falls off. But when you successfully swipe away the bad stuff, you’ll earn back some of the her meter and enter bonus modes where you can pick even more flowers. These can be used as currency in the construct towns to buy upgrades or power-ups such as being able to drop all of a spirit’s defenses, being able to sneak up on them easier and more.
The game is also quite a marvel to look at, utilizing Epic Games’ latest Unreal Engine 3 to bring us one of the most beautiful games to grace Apple’s devices. No real surprise there, given that BitMonster’s development team is populated by ex-staff of Epic Games, known for their work on industry standard-setting games like Gears of War, Infinity Blade, and yes, the Unreal Engine itself. What is surprising is just how bright and colorful the world of Lili is, a stark contrast to Epic’s previous worlds of brown hues and depressing landscapes, with plenty of trees and flowers at every turn. It would’ve been nice if there were voice actors speaking for the characters, but the sounds and music are also impressive, featuring a Zelda-like sweeping score you won’t soon forget.
And though most of the game is great, there’s still a few weeds in the garden that sap some of the fun. As beautiful as these visuals are, they’re occasionally marred by technical glitches and random crashes that threaten to spoil the fun. I understand that this is the first title to use the new Unreal Engine 3, but that still doesn’t excuse it being so buggy at launch, especially after Apple touting the game as a technological showcase for their latest mobile hardware. As I mentioned before, it can quickly become tiresome reading the chat bubbles that appear for the characters, despite containing some pretty clever and witty conversations as you meet new people. Also, the infamous in-app purchase system rears its head here, practically begging you to pay for upgrades that you could earn by playing through many of the game’s later and more challenging (and to be fair, somewhat tedious) levels.
While the premise may push some away from giving it a chance, Lili is certainly one of the more interesting iOS games to come along in some time – when was the last time you embarked a flower-picking adventure fantasy? The visuals are among the best ever seen on a mobile device, utilizing the latest Unreal Engine 3, though it would have been nice if BitMonster had spent a bit more time pruning the garden of glitches and random technical hiccups. Thankfully, playing the game is a joy with simple-to-learn controls, and while extended sessions can become a little tedious, there’s still plenty of frantic swiping action during the flower picking “battles” and plenty of exploration that will keep both casual and hardcore gamers busy.