Games this generation have often approached very sensitive subjects and done an amazing job of portraying them with respect and accuracy. Whether it’s mental health in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, or depression and bullying in Sea of Solitude, games have proven time and time again that they can handle the big questions.
Solo: Islands of the Heart is a new puzzle game with a relaxing setting and a focus on exploring the concept of love and what it means to all of us. It’s a big idea to tackle, so will this game make you fall in love, or does it miss the mark with cupid’s arrow? Let’s find out.
An Interesting Idea With an Identity Crisis
Solo: Islands of the Heart begins with a series of choices. You can be male, female, or non-binary. You can choose your preference between the same options, and then you need to provide the name of your “beloved.”
To maximize the experience, I used my real answers. From here, the game begins on a quiet island in the middle of a massive ocean. It doesn’t force you to begin either. You can simply sit and take in the sights before you’re ready to begin your journey.
Once things begin, you’ll take a boat to a larger island that expands as you set out on your journey. The gameplay here is light exploration mixed with block-based puzzles and some small hidden activities.
To give you an idea of how this all looks in motion, your primary goal in each area will be to reach a lighthouse. Once you’ve done this, a beam of light will connect to a nearby totem. Reaching this will then require you to answer a question about love.
It starts simple with whether or not you are in love, you have been, or you’ve never felt it. From here, the questions get more personal and force you to examine a lot of the things you’ve been told.
Simultaneously, the game also provides a kindred spirit that appears around the environments and will often question your answers or play devil’s advocate with their responses. Finally, static genie characters will offer their own poetic input when you pass by them.
The hidden elements are tied to trophies and don’t offer anything to the gameplay, but you can interact with the local animals and sometimes reunite them with their loved ones using simple puzzles. I would be lying if I said moments like these didn’t bring a smile to my face.
I enjoyed the pace and the reflections on love, but Solo: Islands of the Heart also includes block puzzles that feel out of place with the rest of the experience. The puzzles work fine, allowing you to manipulate blocks by hand, or with a magic staff that lets you control them remotely.
The camera can sometimes get in the way, and manipulating blocks in a 3D space isn’t idea, but it all works fine. The puzzles even offer a decent challenge as you progress. The problem that I have is that it doesn’t add anything to the atmosphere or story. I couldn’t draw a connection between blocks and the exploration of love.
Perhaps if you were using the blocks to reach something besides lifehouses, or the blocks themselves represented an aspect of love, it could have been more closely tied together. Instead, it feels like the developers wanted to have gameplay in the title to avoid complaints that it’s a dreaded “walking simulator,” which is a label I really don’t like.
I think Solo: Islands of the Heart would have benefited from simply doubling down on its exploration of love and its poetic leanings. In that way, it could have been akin to games like Journey or Abzu. As it stands, the puzzle element doesn’t feel cohesive or even necessary, and it brings down the rest of the experience as a result.
Beautiful Visuals and Sound
Solo: Islands of the Heart is a gorgeous game that does a great job with color and leveraging its simple art style to great effect. As you explore the islands, the regions will change in both color and weather, offering a varied world to explore.
The slow and methodical soundtrack complemente exploration and contemplation perfectly, but when you’re scratching your head over a block puzzle, it loses some of its ambience. Overall, I liked Solo: Islands of the Heart’s world and storytelling, but in this case the gameplay just wasn’t a good fit.
Despite that, it’s a heartfelt game that’s worth checking out if you particularly enjoy block puzzles, or you want another game to help you contemplate the more profound aspects of life.
Final Score: 7.0/10
A copy of Solo: Islands of the Heart was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes.
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 8/8/19