Capsule Review: Solo

(A note on versions - this game originally released on PC as “Solo”. It later came to consoles as “Solo: Islands of the Heart”. This review is based on the PC version, but as far as I know the console versions are not otherwise changed.)

A block-manipulation puzzle platformer mixed with a relationship personality quiz. Navigate a series of islands by moving blocks to create platforms and bridges and reach totems, each of which asks you a question about love’s role in your life. The goal seems to be to create an atmosphere conducive to introspection and prompt you to reflect on your thoughts and feelings about love. The game is a couple of hours long and at the end the totems give you a summary of how you answered and what it says about you.

The puzzles add a few mechanics as the game goes on but never become especially complicated (though one late-game puzzle had me stumped and reaching online for a hint). They are made somewhat more difficult and tedious by the limitations of the interface, however. You can grab and place blocks from far away, which is done with a cursor even if you are playing with a gamepad. Placing the blocks this way in a 3D space with your available camera angles limited by your character’s position in that same space can get pretty frustrating - I struggled frequently when placing blocks off the ground due to the game thinking I wanted the block off in the distance instead due to the current lines of sight.

Since the puzzles are mainly there to space out the questions, it’s a shame when they disrupt the atmosphere this way - and while most experienced players will find the puzzles easy, it seems ridiculous that less skilled or able-bodied players might not be able to get through all the relationship questions due to getting caught up on block puzzles. A robust hint system or ability to skip puzzles would be a good fit - and would also benefit repeat play. Players might want to revisit the game as time passes and their views on love change; going back through the puzzles again may make this less appealing (it does to me).

While the questions could easily have been delivered without needing a full 3D game built around them and it’s arguable how much the puzzles add, the atmosphere in general works quite well. The islands are a beautiful place to be alone with your thoughts and the music is calm and gentle. There are some nice touches like the ability to play a guitar (with certain songs having environmental effects) or take photos. There are also many optional puzzles involving feeding animals, building bridges so they can get home, or redirecting water streams and reviving flowers, letting you feel like you’re helping the islands out along the way. You can also pick your gender (including non-binary) and the gender(s) you are attracted to, but there are very few available avatars and they aren’t customizable.

The questions themselves are mostly handled well (certainly better than the false dichotomy karma-influencing confessionals from Catherine). They have no right or wrong answers, don’t swing any kind of karma meter, and are clearly intended to trigger honest reflection. The game will respond somewhat to your answer, both in the moment and in the final summation, but these responses tend to be nonjudgmental and just raise further implications for you to consider. Only once or twice was I frustrated by there not being an answer option that I fully agreed with (and there was still a clear “close enough” answer), and only once or twice did a question or its summary carry assumptions I found problematic. The questions aren’t really going to teach you anything - they don’t really build on each other, and even the final summation is basically just a rephrased restatement of your answers. Their value is as a jumping off point for your own consideration or discussion with your partner - what you get out of it will depend wholly on what you put in.

Solo may not achieve its goals perfectly, but those goals are unusual and interesting enough that even a partial success is attention-worthy. If you’re interested in a guided meditation on love and not put off by solving some puzzles along the way with an occasionally-frustrating interface, it’s worth checking out.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished the game once, having done every optional puzzle I found along the way.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

You can get it or learn more here.