Most video games are made to be mindless fun, or wallet vacuums, but sometimes games are made to say something and evoke thought.
Solo: Islands of the Heart is – at least in my opinion – one of those sorts of games. The sort of game built around the idea of provoking thought within the player, not around frenetic endless fun. Not to say it’s a bore, it isn’t; it’s rather fun in that it makes the player feel smart without being patronizing. It doesn’t come across as pretentious either, like Gris or Sea of Solitude. Both good games, just a bit snooty.
Solo is a puzzle game – particularly a block puzzle platformer sort of affair – acting as an introspective game about love, and what you define as necessary for love or a relationship. Each island having a totem you need to get to, which in turn asks you a question that the game asks you to answer as truthfully to your own ideals as possible. From the outset it asks you for a preferred gender and the gender you are attracted to; simplistic genders though, just male female or nonbinary.
As far as gameplay goes, it’s pretty simple and pretty easy. On each island or section of island you’re presented with a puzzle; usually ‘find a way to activate totem, then reach totem.’ – Then you have to accomplish this task such via moving and positioning various blocks to platform your way up or across. You’re also given a parachute to glide with, a magic staff to move and place blocks at a distance, as well as to flip and rotate them. A camera to take pictures of things with, and a guitar that changes colour saturation and weather. All purely aesthetical things with, as far as I know, with no effect on gameplay.
It all works rather well together; there’s all sorts of neat little puzzles that aren’t too hard as to turn you off from the game, but not too simple as to make you feel patronized. I’m only a little ways in myself and already found myself stumped by a few puzzles, and a few questions as well.
Let’s not forget that whole introspective thing – The story of the game is that you’ve lost your beloved/partner/friend, and are trying to locate him/her/they. Throughout the islands the totems ask you various questions usually with three answers to each question. Some questions are pretty standard, others are more thought indicative. Things like ‘is sex a must for you in a relationship’, or ‘who are you more loyal to, family or your lover’. Stuff like that… Though later on it gets much harder to just shoot each question down as it comes. There’s a few questions so far that have made me sit and think for a good few minutes.
Puzzle variation is admittedly slim, the art style is pleasant, colours are vibrant and the mechanics are simplistic and well rounded. The camera has a tendency to be a bit clunky, though, and the game is super dialogue heavy, leading to slow pacing. Published by Merge Games and developed by Team Gotham, Solo: Islands of the Heart is a charming new release, and a pleasant little game that is honestly quite calming to play.
A toast to you, Solo, and a fine score of 8/10.