Review - Solo: Islands of the Heart
While mileage will certainly vary, Solo is an introspective trip worth taking.
Is it love to find a matching tempo? This is the question that greeted me as I began my journey through Solo: Islands of the Heart. It’s a fitting start for a game that is just as much about reflecting on love’s ups and downs as it is about finding creative solutions to seemingly simple puzzles.
Team Gotham’s decision to craft Solo with a look akin to Duplo Blocks and a serene soundtrack plays counter to the heavy material that is covered in the 3-4 hours of gameplay on hand.
Despite the kid-friendly visuals, this is a game for those who have experienced significant life moments. As someone who has been married for nearly ten years, I can honestly say Solo would have rang hollow had my 18-year-old self been the one at the controls instead.
That’s not to say the game’s content isn’t affecting for younger people, but mileage will vary significantly based on the road you have traveled thus far.
Solo’s concept is fairly straightforward – your avatar, which you can select at the outset, sails to a set of archipelagos where they begin a quest to find what love means to them. Loosely guided by a series of massive cloud-like statues, you are presented with a number of puzzles to solve. Completing each one opens a new branch of the archipelago for you to explore, thus allowing you to continue your journey.
Pretty simple stuff, right?
Much like love, the box-based puzzles you’re presented with early on are simple, straight-forward. Each puzzle’s “goal” is a large totem which asks you a multiple-choice question upon arriving, all of which have the potential to make you contemplate your current state of affairs.
“Would you like your current love to be everlasting?”
“Is time killing the passion in your relationship?”
“How important is sex in a relationship?”
“Have you ever shown your truest, weakest, darkest self?”
How you answer these questions changes various things in the environment, such as the landscape’s color, the text of letters you may find hidden outside of the normal path, and the dialog with the shadow of your “significant other”, who pops up in multiple spots along the way.
You can also engage this shadow in various activities – laying on a hill staring at the sky, rocking back and forth in a swing, sitting quietly on a bench. The game doesn’t force you to move on from these reprieves after a given period of time, but instead lets you bask in the moment.
If it hasn’t been made clear yet, Solo wants you deeply invested in the message it’s trying to send. Of course, this is a game, and as such there are certain things that exist to help drive that message.
The aforementioned box puzzles, while they begin simply, morph over time to become much more complex. You are slowly introduced to new types of boxes and tools that present new mechanics to contend with. There is no one way to solve these puzzles either, and I don’t doubt that some of you will find easier solutions than I did.
This is all, of course, another metaphor for love. No two people’s journey or experience will be the same.
You will also come across a number of hungry little animals, stalks of (maybe) celery that need their gardens watered, and mysterious doors that lead down into dark caves. While these side quests help to draw out the experience and, in some cases, show different aspects of love, I personally felt that they were more of a bane than a boon to Solo’s rhythm.
Technically speaking, I did run into a couple of bumps along the road. First off, the camera can be real finicky when moving boxes around; this happened on multiple occasions. I also ran into a bug that froze my game when completing one of the side quests. For the most part though, the experience was fairly seamless.
If you have experience with all of the complications that love can present, Solo does an admirable job asking you to contemplate your inner self. While mileage will certainly vary, Solo is an introspective trip worth taking.
Note: Rectify Gaming was provided a PS4 key by Merge Games for review purposes.