Title: Solo: Islands of the Heart
Developer: Team Gotham
Publisher: Merge Games
Genre: Adventure, Platformer, Role-Playing, Puzzle
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: Teen – Sexual Themes
Release Date: 01/08/19
Price: £14.99 – Rapid Reviews were very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
Based in Madrid, Team Gotham are a team of five who have, since 2014, developed four games. Two of these are available free via GameJolt: no ONE and Fidelio, another can be found on Steam under the name, The Guest, and the latest title, SOLO: Islands of the Heart, is now made a home on the Nintendo Switch. With home consoles being a goal of theirs, Solo represents a significant moment for the team, and we were keen to see how it fared.
Billed as an ‘introspective puzzler set on a gorgeous and surreal archipelago‘, Solo: Islands of the Heart is just that: a puzzler. While yes, there are elements of the gameplay that involve puzzle and exploration; it is not the physical that this applies to. Focussed on providing a deep and meaningful experience as you wander through the serene surroundings, Solo tasks you with reflecting ‘on your loving relationships by exploring contemplative, dream-like islands.’ Puzzled yet?
Not to be dismissed as another indie title with a vibrant colour palette to add to the collection, Solo aims to ensure you leave its islands in a more reflective and thought-provoking mood than when you arrived. It does this through a series of personal questions that you unlock as you uncover the puzzles of the archipelago.
Puzzles of the island vs. puzzles of the heart…
It is here that it feels pertinent to identify the disconnect that I felt during the process: the puzzles of the island versus the puzzles of the heart. As I meandered around the islands in search of the next stop on my journey, I was enamoured by the visuals. The colour combinations, subtle artistry and atmospheric approach, was one that was both calming and inviting. It set the tone for a time of reflection, and I was prepared to do so. As my journey began and I was asked to state the name of my loved one, consider questions both broad and personal, and delve into the finer details of my relationship, I believed that’s what I would be doing. That was until the boxes arrived…
As I alluded to earlier, the game sets its stall as a puzzle game. This element of the game takes the form of boxes that you manipulate to reach places that your character wouldn’t ordinarily be able to get to, and this then allows you to make it to both lighthouses and totems to advance the ‘story’.
The boxes can be picked up, rotated and set, and understanding how best to utilise them is pivotal to any success you will have. Personally, I found this part of the game to be an inconvenience, particularly when it is placed between intimate and potentially uncomfortable questions. Not only that, but the mechanics leave a little to be desired. It can be rather challenging to highlight the block that you want, and then placing it in the correct location can be almost as difficult. As well as this, a block misplaced in the water can mean that the block is reset and the process needs to begin again.
There are other puzzle-based moments in-game, with the most notable of them being the need to get two animals in love together again after separation. It was here that a fleeting moment of metaphorical imagery was at work, with my mind considering how this related to relationships in the real-world. It then caused me to think about how the game itself could be considered a metaphor, but the evidence was lacking. This may have been intentional by the development team, but better signposting would have been beneficial.
At odds with each other
For me, I felt that the relationship between puzzle-platformer and life analysis was not a promising one. They felt at odds with each other throughout my time with the game and proved counter-productive in my efforts to embrace the reflective nature of Solo fully. That’s not to say that others will see it the same way, and I believe that is the true beauty of Solo. Some will approach the game primarily as a puzzle-based game, whereas others will seek the opportunity to reflect on life and love in ways that many games wouldn’t dream of doing.
Solo: Islands of the Heart is a unique title. It will divide opinion, and this is as pertinent to its success as the gorgeous graphics on offer. If you can look past the lacklustre and cumbersome puzzle elements, there is an incredibly thought-evoking depth to the personal reflection it invokes. If you are aren’t interested in delving into the inner-most thoughts about your relationships with others, I believe there are better games on the market. What cannot be disputed is regardless of how this one is played, Team Gothic’s attempts to create something new for the market should be applauded.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Solo: Islands of the Heart from the Nintendo eShop on the following link, https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/Nintendo-Switch-download-software/Solo-Islands-of-the-Heart-1607511.html
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.