Originally released back in April of 2018 on PC, Solo: Islands of the Heart was finally ported to consoles (Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One) this past week (August 1st, 2019). Anyone familiar with my video game reviews here on Geeky Hobbies will know that I am a big fan of puzzle games. There is just something really satisfying about a good puzzle game. When I saw Solo: Islands of the Heart I was really intrigued by the game due to the combination of interesting puzzle mechanics and a gorgeous visual style. I was a little cautious about the story though. Solo: Islands of the Heart does a great job combining fun puzzle design with a beautiful atmosphere, but its short and disappointing story leaves something to be desired.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Team Gotham for the review copy of Solo: Islands of the Heart used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
In Solo: Islands of the Heart you play as an unnamed protagonist. This protagonist will sail between a variety of archipelagos as they reflect on what it is to love. Throughout the game you will be presented with various questions about your current and past romantic relationships. Your answers to these questions will craft a branching narrative that generates the story of Solo: Islands of the Heart.
As far as the gameplay I would describe Solo: Islands of the Heart as mostly a puzzle game with some adventure and light platforming mechanics thrown in as well. Solo: Islands of the Heart consists of a set of archipelagos with each archipelago featuring a group of islands. Each island basically acts as a puzzle. Most of these puzzles involve you reaching two objects. First you have to reach and touch a miniature lighthouse which shines a light on a sleeping totem. You then have to reach the totem which will ask you the aforementioned questions about your romantic relationships. This will open up the next island in the archipelago.
Reaching the miniature lighthouse and totem are not as simple as just walking up to them though. This is where a majority of the gameplay comes from. For each island you are given a set of blocks. You will begin with basic blocks that you can just move around and climb on. As you progress through the game though you will get access to other blocks including blocks that have a fan on it that lifts things up, a block that has a platform that extends out of it, and a block that can stick to other substances. To reach the totems and lighthouses you must use these different blocks together along with your parachute (you can’t jump in the game) to get across gaps or climb up to higher platforms.
I have to say that I had some mixed feelings about Solo: Islands of the Heart. There are some things that I really liked about the game and there are other things that didn’t like.
Let’s begin with the positives. By far the thing I liked most about Solo: Islands of the Heart were the puzzles. While Solo: Islands of the Heart doesn’t include any puzzle mechanics never seen in other games, it does a good job utilizing its mechanics. What is kind of unique about the puzzle design in Solo: Islands of the Heart is that the puzzles don’t seem to have one strict solution. It feels like there are several ways to solve most of the puzzles. At first the puzzles are really easy, but the difficulty picks up a little later in the game. I wouldn’t say that the puzzles ever get really difficult, but the game forces you to think outside of the box in how to use the different types of blocks in order to reach new areas. The game does a good job mixing and matching the different types of blocks to create fun puzzles. I was entertained with the gameplay until the very end of the game.
While most of the puzzles in the game just involve you finding a way to reach your next destination, the game has a couple other types of puzzles. First there are some puzzles where you have to manipulate the placement of the blocks in front of a light in order to match shadows on the ground. Second there are a group of puzzles where you have a stream of water. You need to use a special set of blocks to redirect the flow of water so it reaches a watering station so some plants can be watered. Finally there are some puzzles where you have to reunite two animals that have become separated. To do this you need to use the provided blocks to create a path between the two animals’ locations.
I actually really liked these puzzle mechanics even though I don’t think the game uses them enough. These puzzles are a nice change of pace while also being some of the more challenging puzzles in the game. Most of them are also optional so if you can’t figure them out you can just skip them. I would not recommend skipping them though as they are some of the best puzzles in the game. The shadow puzzles force you to think out of the box as you see how the placement of each box casts a shadow on the ground. The water puzzles are also quite satisfying. The best of these three types of puzzles though are the animal puzzles. As I will get to next, the animals in Solo: Islands of the Heart are so cute. It is hard to see the two sad animals being separated so you will obligated to help them.
Other than the puzzle design Solo: Islands of the Heart does a great job with its atmosphere. Solo: Islands of the Heart is the type of game that you are supposed to sit back and relax while playing. The game never rushes you as there are never any time limits. The game’s art style is gorgeous as you want to spend some time just admiring the world. The world the game creates is original between the fauna and various animals you encounter. The animals in particular are really cute. While they don’t have any real impact on the gameplay (other than getting a few achievements), the game gives you few actions that you can take to just enjoy the atmosphere. You can play the guitar, take pictures, and even feed and pet the cute animals that inhabit the islands. If you want a game with a relaxing atmosphere you should enjoy your time in Solo: Islands of the Heart.
Unfortunately Solo: Islands of the Heart has a couple issues that do prevent the game from being as good as it could have been.
I would say that the biggest problem that I had with the game is the story. I can see some people really enjoying the story but I didn’t particularly care for it. Basically the game is an introspective look at your current and past romantic relationships. There is no real story between the characters in the game as the whole story is driven by how you answer the questions. The story gets pretty philosophical and borderline judgy as it kind of criticizes whatever choices you end up making. The story never really interested me. It seems like the game’s story is more for people that are currently in a romantic relationship or just recently left a relationship. I don’t really see the story working for people who aren’t currently in a relationship or recently left one. I can see some people really liking the story, but there are going to be other people like me that don’t really care for it.
The second problem involves the gameplay. The controls for the game are quite straightforward and work well for the most part. The problem with the gameplay comes from the camera. In the game you are given two ways to pick up and move blocks. You can pick them up and place them on an adjacent space. Eventually you are given a wand that allows you to pick up and move the blocks to spaces that you can’t reach. I really liked this idea as it gives you more flexibility in solving the puzzles and I basically always used the wand after I got it. The problem is that this mechanic relies on positioning the camera just right so you can place the block where you want it. Usually it is not that hard to put the camera in position to properly place a block. There are some times in the game though where you have to fight against the camera to get it into the right position. This lead to some wasted time as I had to get the camera angle just right.
The final problem that I had with Solo: Islands of the Heart is that it is on the shorter side. The length is going to somewhat depend on how much time you spend just admiring the atmosphere and doing various activities like feeding and petting the animals. If you end up doing all of the optional content and taking some time to just sit back and relax I can see getting 3-4 hours out of the game. If you just race through the game I can see finishing the game in around two hours. Solo: Islands of the Heart doesn’t really have a lot of replay value either. While you could answer the questions differently to change the story, I don’t really see why you would want to. It doesn’t change the actual gameplay and I don’t see why you would lie on the questions just to see a different story. With the game retailing for $14.99 you don’t get a lot of content for the price.
I honestly don’t know what to think about Solo: Islands of the Heart. There are things about Solo: Islands of the Heart that I really liked and other things that I didn’t like. On the positive side I liked the gameplay. The puzzles might not be really difficult but they are fun and can be pretty clever at times. The game also does a great job creating a relaxing and beautiful atmosphere. The problem is that I didn’t like the story. Some people will really like it, but it feels like it is more for someone in a serious romantic relationship or someone who recently ended a relationship. The story also feels kind of judgy at times. The camera can be a little frustrating as it can get in the way of you trying to complete one of the puzzles. Solo: Islands of the Heart is also kind of short where most players will complete it in 2-4 hours.
My recommendation comes down to a couple things. If you don’t really care for puzzle games that revolve around manipulating blocks, Solo: Islands of the Heart probably won’t hold your attention. If you don’t like laid back games or games with more introspective stories, it also probably won’t be for you. If the game’s concept sound interesting to you though I think you will enjoy Solo: Islands of the Heart. Whether you should purchase it right away or wait for a sale depends on how much you care about game length.