Games are a great form of escapism, transporting players to faraway worlds and situations that test the limit of the imagination. However, there are also titles that force us to contemplate our lives, surroundings, and people around us.
While the premise is a noble one and the themes relatable, Merge Games’ Solo: Islands of the Heart is bogged down by a poor camera, cumbersome controls, and ultimately, a lack of coherence between gameplay and the game’s message.
With an idea as deep as love, the heady theme Solo: Islands of the Heart takes on is no mean feat. The game breaks up sections of the game between puzzle-solving, exploration, and the aforementioned retrospective questions. Exploration lets players discover adorable animals to befriend and interactions with your love interest, like diving into the sea or enjoying a swing.
Players will also obtain a parachute, in addition to a guitar and a camera. While the parachute is integral to overcoming the obstacles in the game, the other tools are just window dressing that provides little incentive other than a diversion.
The main bulk of gameplay comes from solving platforming puzzles. It all begins easily enough, stacking boxes to reach platforms that get increasingly taller. Solo: Islands of the Heart then ups the ante by introducing a magic staff that can manipulate boxes from distance, and different types of boxes like extending bridges, or a fan-box that can blow you higher. While easy at first, the puzzles do progressively require more thinking due to the number of boxes a particular puzzle gives you, and the various special boxes,
Choosing your character and gender may seem important, but the ability to change these at will seems to negate that choice entirely. However, the choice of who you wish to love, named or not, is set in stone, and the disparity in choice is immediately telling.
As a sailor, your objective is to explore archipelagos that represent your inner thoughts, essentially. On the islands, you will find lighthouses that need to be lit before you can proceed to totems that question your concept of love.
Opinions about the nature of their relationship, the person they love, and many others hint at a deeper exploration of the subject matter. In reality, though, it felt more like they were included for a semblance of meaning, rather than truly impacting the gameplay experience.
That is not to say the questions asked were not thought-provoking, it can actually help in self-reflection if you answer to the best of your ability. However, to see that manifest in your ghost-like love interest and their responses only do little to drive players to the next leg of the journey. The choices matter for nothing in gameplay, except at the end, and even then, it felt like there was more to explore when it comes to a subject as profound as love.
Themes aside, the most disappointing thing is the camera. The challenge of Solo: Islands of the Heart should actually be solving the puzzles, but the fussy camera, coupled with trying to manoeuvre blocks in a 3D space just does not work well. Frustration can easily set in, especially in more crowded spaces that require deft touches. You can spend ages trying to align a box rather than figuring out the actual solution.
The best puzzles involved the manipulation of light and darkness, but comes into play a little too late in the adventure to really make a difference. The game also includes some optional puzzles. Trying to reunite lost animals with their own loved ones called for more creative solutions, and are easily more fun than the main path.
Everything just does not quite add up in Solo: Islands of the Heart. The platforming puzzles can be a good challenge, but is made harder by poor controls. Exploration garners no rewards, and tools outside of the parachute and magic staff count for nothing.
The main tenet of making one question their concept of love and its impact could have more impact on gameplay, but remain frustratingly divorced from everything being done in Solo: Islands of the Heart. It is akin to playing a game at the same time as taking an online questionnaire, but not together.
Solo: Islands of the Heart certainly has its draws, from the pleasing visuals to adorable creations populating the world. Its direction in asking players to reflect on themselves will definitely spark conversations, but a lack of depth and impact on gameplay does it no favours. Puzzles are decent and would have been more enjoyable if not for the controls and camera.
At only 4-6 hours long, Solo: Islands of the Heart could have been an , but unfortunately, it feels like a marriage doomed to fail when it comes to combining the theme and the game itself.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Solo: Islands of the Heart task you with finding out what love means, but it is hard to love a game with ideas all over the place.
Gameplay - 6/10
Story - 7/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 6/10