Love can mean a lot of different things to everyone. Love may be the feeling that connects humans together, forming families and relationships. Love could also be the connection we feel between our friends, potentially even our pets – regardless of how you see love, it is infinitely complex and hard to truly define. Solo: Islands of the Heart doesn’t attempt to come at you with answer to the mystery of love but tries to find how it personally connects with you.
From the outset, Solo tells you to be as honest as possible. Being honest with yourself and with the game will undoubtedly give you a better experience. But with that said, the answers can be tough. Questions like “In what ways does love wrap your existence?” or “Do we need to love ourselves before we’re able to love and be loved?”. You’re presented with three answers which represent different thoughts to the question posed. And honestly, it is truly difficult to choose between them. The questions are thought provoking, and once an answer has been chosen it reverberates down the came – often NPCs and documents will reflect the answers you choose, adding true weight to the questions.
The way Solo presents these questions is equally creative and unique. You play an unnamed character, exploring the archipelagos of the mind. You must light small lighthouses to trigger totems, who present you with the aforementioned questions. Once every lighthouse is lit, you can move onto the next island. It’s easier said than done, however. In order to reach these lighthouses, you must utilise the variety of cubes dotted about the map. Some have fans attached which propel you in a certain direction, some can be used to spray water to a certain location and of course, some are plain, bog-standard cubes. To aid you in this, you are equipped with a magic staff which can select and move blocks at a distance, and a parachute, which helps you to glide and reach platforms further out. Some of the puzzles are extremely basic, but as you explore the archipelago, they ramp up in difficulty, never becoming ‘rage-quit’ levels of hard, but still presenting a significant challenge.
Team Gothic’s attention to not only the fluidity of love, but also the fluidity of character is also much appreciated. Rather than forcing you into one character at the beginning, it feels like Team Gothic understands that character and gender are not necessarily set in stone. At the beginning you choose a gender, and one of three avatars based off of your gender – but, at any point throughout the game, you can change your gender and in turn your character. It’s a small feature, but one I appreciated greatly.
All this praise, and I haven’t even mentioned the game’s aesthetic, which as you can imagine is incredibly wholesome and gorgeous. It follows a unique artstyle, that I can best equate to picture books from my childhood – tales of brave adventures or fantastical lands. It has a soothing nostalgic feeling to it which instantly sucked me into its world and universe. The music complements this style and is suitable humbling and ambient.
If I have any complaints for this game, it’s that sometimes it does assume you have someone or something in your life that you truly love. At the beginning, you’re asked for the name of your love, which is difficult to pinpoint when you’re not in relationship or close to another person. There are options for you to explore this later on in the game, but it still sometimes reverts back to the assumption that you are in love. For a game which explores the fluidity and nature of love, it feels odd that it sometimes needs you to be in love.
Regardless, Solo: Islands Of The Heart is a beautiful exploration of love and how asks you to introspectively think about how it impacts your life. It adds some puzzles, and interesting side missions which aid the gaming experience, but everything loops back to its main theme of love. I’d recommend playing this to anyone, but be aware that it will ask you some difficult questions and I encourage you to be as honest as you can.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*