What is Love? Well, it’s not likely what the Roxbury Guys from Saturday Night Live thought it was (yes, I’m totally aging myself there). Love can be hard to describe, and is oftentimes stated as indescribable. So, when a game comes along and tries to introspectively explore the topic of love through an interactive experience, it’s a tall order to fill. As we take a look at Solo: Islands of the Heart for the Nintendo Switch, will we find love, understand the meaning of love, or just love to be done with this game?
Solo: Islands of the Heart is a game built on taking a journey to understand love and how it reflects your own life. At its core, the game has some puzzle mechanics, exploration, and definitely features a narrative focus. Glancing at screenshots, you’d even be reasonable to compare it with The Witness, but the puzzles are far from challenging, and the game finds itself closer to a “walking simulator” during my time with it.
At the beginning of the game you’re asked to answer a series of questions as truthfully and self-evaluating as possible. You’ll be asked some introductory ones that set the narrative up, such as: are you male, female, non-binary, and are you in love, have you been in love, do you think love is pointless, etc. From there the game will unfold its narrative custom to your entry picks.
It doesn’t take but a moment after this introduction that you find your happy little avatar tossed into a brightly colored and vibrant island. As you wander around, you’ll start engaging with some basic tutorials like how to interact with little critters, and most importantly, what your game side objectives are. You see, the island you’re on is actually part of a much larger archipelago that reveals itself more as you complete each island/level objective. The goal is always the same though, in that you must locate the lighthouse and activate it, followed by interacting with a Totem figure who then asks you a pretty deep question regarding love, and your experiences with three multiple choice answers on how you would best answer.
As your journey progresses, you’ll find lightweight puzzle mechanics come into play on each island in the form of various boxes. These range from a very simple standard box that can be lifted and moved around, to fan boxes and other layered mechanics. You’ll often find yourself in need of reaching high peaks to gain access to the Lighthouse or Totem, and to reach those places, you’ll have to problem solve how you use the boxes to proceed. You’ll also earn some handy tools such as a wand that allows you to teleport boxes to you. These puzzles aren’t entirely linear, which is nice, and you can find some unique ways to place boxes around and solve what you need, though it’s not really applicable to deviate too far. I personally enjoyed these puzzles as they weren’t incredibly hard and gave the game a bit more pacing to keep you on an island a bit longer, while maybe looking around and enjoying the scenery some.
Many of the islands in Solo do have some side objectives that come in the form of interacting with cute critters in predicaments. For example, in an earlier island I helped two little critters meet up with each other as the bridge that connected them had fallen apart. It was a reuniting of loved ones and helped further impress upon the theme of the game.
You can also take photos of your own accord using an in-game camera, and if you so feel inclined, start playing guitar while hanging out. Some critters appreciate this. These side diversions are welcoming, but I couldn’t help but feel they were just tacked on as an afterthought. I would have loved to have seen some more longer lasting stories with some of the animals, but I didn’t encounter that myself.
This is a game that’s tough to talk about the narrative, as it’s more about inner reflection and responses versus a typical linear story or even branching narrative game. When you speak to a Totem, it’ll inquire how you feel about certain situations. For example, I was asked a question that was along the lines of how long love could last for. I chose an answer that represented that I felt it could last eternally. Shortly after I found my ghost companion representing my significant other on a bench. When I interacted with her, she retorted a counter-point to my answer, which I then found was carried thematically through many islands. When I would answer how I felt, she would counterpoint that. It was strange to me. Here I professed how I loved, and then was basically questioned if I should think that way. It’s an interesting narrative route that maybe does make you second-guess your choices and how someone else may react. I think the intention here is to question the player if love can be felt the way that the player believes. This further reinforces the need to answer truthfully so that you can take away the impact the game tries to deliver.
This is definitely the sort of game you have to go in open minded. If you’re here for a core gameplay experience, you’ve got a walking simulator with some light puzzle mechanics. That’s clearly not the focus here. Engaging in some inner perspective and handling some thought-provoking questions on the topic of love and relationships is what will keep you playing. It’s not a particularly long game and if you’re a fan of games like Journey, or The Witness, or Flower, – ones built on relaxing gameplay and time to reflect- then Solo: Island of the Heart might challenge your ideals of love is and what it ultimately can be.
Solo: Islands Of The Heart Review
- Graphics - 6.5/106.5/10
- Sound - 5.5/105.5/10
- Gameplay - 6/106/10
- Lasting Appeal - 5/105/10
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
Solo: Islands of the Heart is an introspective journey to question how you love and understand different ways it can manifest. Filled with light puzzle elements and exploration, this game can be relaxing and is more of a walking simulator than anything else. The $20 asking price is a bit steep for the content included.
Alex has been actively gaming since the release of the Nintendo. Turning passion into profession, he’s spent just over a decade in game development, and is currently the Creative Director at a studio.