It's been an age-old argument trying to understand and quantify love. The truth is; however, the emotion has different meanings to different people, therefore, it cannot be easily defined. For some, it is simply just a chemical reaction driving our primeval desire to reproduce, yet on the other hand, it's more of a fairy tale concept, seeing people search tirelessly for their one true love. One of the more accurate descriptions of the powerful emotion came from LeAnn Rimes, who sang the lyrics "some say love, it is a river," suggesting it's as complicated as a twisting, ever-flowing body of water with unimaginable strength. Whilst this is close, the latest title from Team Gotham, Solo: Islands of the Heart, brings an equally impressive representation showing love as a grossing sea with the potential to swallow up all in its path, if a person cannot in the first place, begin to love themselves.
Solo: Islands of the Heart is a single-player contemplative puzzler, putting players in the shoes of a character as they journey through vibrant islands, in the effort of coming to grips with their past relationships. Throughout the relatively short story spanning three islands that can be completed in approximately four hours, you will encounter unique puzzles, strange creatures, ghostly projections and even inquisitive Totems, who ask deep, personal questions encouraging players to truly understand themselves.
At the beginning of the game, players must align themselves as accurately as they can to their character by choosing their gender and sexual orientation, before picking one the select playable designs. For those wondering, Solo does offer the ability to choose non-binary as your gender and likewise the same for their orientation. Once this has been completed, players will be able to jump in and begin their journey of self-acceptance.
Based over an archipelago of islands, the story of Solo requires players to solve simple but ingenious puzzles as they climb to the strange Totems, unlocking the next stage of the islands. These challenges require players to move unique blocks, figuring out a resolution for the environmental puzzles in place. For example, you may need to scale a vertical surface, much too steep to climb up, however, by placing the blocks in a certain way, you will be able to bypass the problem with ease. As for the respective blocks available, Solo offers a small variety, which can be implemented in multiple ways. There are; standard 1x1 blocks that can be climbed upon, fan blocks can move other blocks or themselves, extending blocks, which create a platform once they are stable and finally sticky blocks that can be placed on vertical surfaces. Each of these interacts with each other in ways not inherently recognisable at a first glance, such as fans being able to be used as platforms and not just as a lifting mechanic.
As for moving these blocks into the positions desired, players will have to become familiar with Solo's simplistic control scheme, which makes the title accessible to all ages. On PS4, the left stick is for movement, with the right tied to the camera. Cross is for interacting, which means anything from initiating a conversation to picking up a block, with Triangle bringing the ability to rotate boxes and open the inventory and Circle being used to close or leave an interaction. Square opens the parachute, a unique tool that allows players to glide small distances and L2 is tied to the Magic Wand mechanic, which allows players to move blocks more effectively, without being in the immediate vicinity of them. This tool is gifted shortly after beginning the first island and is the most important mechanic to master as without it, some puzzles are impossible. Last, R2 allows players to run, making it much easier to move between islands.
As well as advancing the story through meeting Totems across each of the three island archipelagos, players will be able to assist friendly animals through mini side-quests. These could be anything from bringing the animal a specific food, all the way to helping it across dangerous terrain in order to make it home. These do not reward anything, although they make you feel warm inside, especially since you get to pet the animal afterwards, resulting in it giving off an amiable grin before following you around. If side-quests aren't your thing, simply ploughing through the story is more than possible by constantly meeting each of the Totems scattered around the world. Mentioned briefly earlier, these Totems ask questions forcing self-reflection, such as "do you feel like time killed the passion in your last relationship?" Players are encouraged to answer these intrusive questions as accurately and honestly as they can, although answering in whichever you like will not affect the storyline, even though you would be lying to yourself. This ability to make your own choices gives the game its own branching narrative system, even if there are only two alternative endings.
One of the other ways to entertain yourself throughout a playthrough of Solo is to search for the four available sheets of music, which can be played on the guitar to alter the world in different ways. The guitar that can be summoned by pressing down on the D-Pad, can be operated by then pressing the D-Pad again, where each button press plays a different chord. After one of the four short songs has been correctly played, the game will be altered by either bringing rain instead of sun or by switching between monochrome and colour art styles. This is the entirety of what the guitar can do although it does elevate Solo by bringing some fun new mechanics to the title.
Last of all, it's worth taking a look at the art and sound design in Solo: Islands of the Heart, which uses a vibrant colour scheme that matches the surreal squared-off design, making for dreamlike island scattered with unusual architecture and bizarre nature. The sound on the other hand perfectly reflects how the game plays. All the way throughout a mellow tune is playing that never seems to become overwhelming or threating. This is so players can sink into their journey and absorb the experience without feeling overcome by stress or other negative emotions. In the end, the combination of the art and sound design makes for a title that always feels warming and calming to spend time with, even if it's only for a short duration.
Overall Solo: Islands of the Heart is a fun puzzler with an unusually designed narrative that gives players an opportunity to look deeper into their past and in ways begin to accept themselves. Aside from some difficult problems and the very occasional mention of mature themes, this is a fun experience for all ages.