Some games are pretty straight forward. You can tell from the title exactly what you are getting into. Let’s face it, if the game has the words kill, death, mayhem, etc in the title, you are going to see lots of blood. But some games are more nuanced and subtle, and the title doesn’t give much away. This is the case of Solo : Islands of the Heart from Merge Games. With a title like this, you are not expecting a puzzle game that is twisted up with a psychology test.
The premise of the game is simple, you are a sailor that must go looking for his true love on the sea. You visit a series of 3 archipelagos, solve puzzles and move on. But along the way you are asked a series of questions that have to do with love, and you are urged to answer them as honestly as you can. Along the way you will encounter visions of your love that will question your choices. It is a rare, deeply insightful mechanic to a game that really works.
When you reach your first island you will have to navigate to a lighthouse that will then illuminate a totem. Once you reach the totem, you will be asked a deeply meaningful question about love, and the next island in the archipelago will appear. To move around the islands, you will have to use blocks to make new pathways to lift you to higher spots. They can either be picked up normally or with the help of a magic rod that will levitate them. There is no one single way to solve each puzzle, so you can get creative. The only rules are you cannot climb more than 1 block at a time, and blocks must be placed on solid ground. As you progress, you will have to learn to use bridge blocks, fan blocks, and sticky blocks to your advantage.
One of the great things about this title is they consider that not everyone will fall into classic gender roles. When you start, you get to pick if you are male, female, or non-binary. You can also pick who your true love is going to be from these same categories. This little edition makes the game accessible to a wider audience. The in-game text also changes to reflect the choices you make, so you are not thrown out of the experience by misused pronouns.
The graphics in the game are bright and colorful. You will encounter different scenery with each archipelago that you visit. Despite the heavy questions you are asked, the game feels light and enjoyable. The soundtrack is a soft drifting melody that will keep you calm as you tackle some of the more difficult puzzles in the game. Although there is A LOT of text to read in the game, it is presented in a clear, very easy to read manner. There are no odd fonts that strain your eyes.
When I first started playing, I was kind of perplexed with the combination of a puzzle game and a psychological test. But as I played through the game, I could see how the two seemed to be interwoven. Each half of the game is distinct, but at the same time lend to the other. It creates a beautiful harmony as you continue thinking about the questions the totem asks you, long after the answer has been given. And realizing that the puzzles get more difficult as you delve deeper into the mysteries of your own heart gives a solid feeling that you are accomplishing many things at once.
Solo : Islands of the Heart is out now on XB1, PS4 and Nintendo Switch. While the price tag of around $20 may seem a little high, it is well worth it. This game offers an experience like no other. Even once you complete the game, you are left contemplating the way you view love and your choices in love. This is a game that I can’t recommend highly enough for it’s seamless integration on puzzles and deep introspection.