It isn’t often that a video game tasks me with answering deeply personal questions; and even less often when I can find myself relating to each and every one. For yours truly, my love life has gone through major changes over the last 6 months, to say the least. Why is that important? Well because Solo: Islands of the Heart is a game that challenges players to reflect upon their own romantic experiences. Regardless of your relationship status, those willing to give Solo a chance will likely find many areas to relate to. While it would be easy to label Solo as a simple third person puzzler, doing so would genuinely sell Team Gotham’s baby short.
Your journey starts off by letting your choose your gender and the type of gender you are attracted to; props to them for including non-binary as an option. After taking control of your character, you are free to explore the small colorful islands. The general objective is to interact with a lighthouse, which in turn powers up a totem. These totems will ask you difficult questions about your love life before opening up new areas to explore. What begins as a simple concept quickly increases in difficulty as new abilities and items are acquired. The first question from the totem will set the tone of nearly the entire experience. It will always ask whether you are: in a relationship, loved and lost or never loved at all. Regardless of your choices, the gameplay experience will remain the same, only the dialogue and future questions will change.
Navigating the 3D space is like any third-person adventure game, but its the use of the magic staff that sets everything apart. Players will find themselves in need of bridging gaps and reaching higher elevations, but the problem is they cannot jump. Instead, players must use their magic staff to pick up and place various blocks to make progress. You might need to build a staircase with normal blocks or position air-blowing fan blocks to boost your character slightly higher. A handy parachute allows your character to glide across gaps and get a slight vertical boost from fan blocks. Other types include blocks that have a long bridge and suction blocks that stick to surfaces. Figuring out how to position these blocks correctly to get where you need to go is the main challenge in Solo. I found using the staff and rotating blocks to work well most of the time, but occasionally I would have trouble positioning or targeting a block located in the center of the screen. What’s nice is that you aren’t under a time limit, you cannot die and you never need to restart. If you drop a block in the water it will simply respawn back near your location.
Breaking up the block placing action are interactable moments with your ghost partners, feeding and helping animals out, playing music, watering flowers and completing shadow puzzles. The whole vibe of the game is relaxing and you will definitely want to see and do everything on each of the three archipelagos. Seeing and doing everything in addition to earning all achievements can be done in roughly 90 mins following a guide, with perhaps an additional hour of gameplay for those foregoing help. The short story and low replayability make the $19.99 price tag somewhat hard to swallow. Graphically, you’re getting a vibrant and colorful experience that looks very good in motion. Swaying grass, butterflies and feral animals roaming for food give each location tangible life.
As someone who recently ended a marriage with a partner I had known almost half my life, Solo: Islands of the Heart really hit home. I found myself answering the questions as I would if I were in a therapy session. I do wish there was more content to justify the price, or perhaps more endings or ways to shake up gameplay. What is here is beautiful, thought-provoking and challenging at times. Solo: Islands of the Heart made me think about things that no game ever has before. In the end, I think that was Team Gotham’s goal all along.
A press copy of Solo: Islands of the Heart was provided for this review.