“Exploring the heart is like exploring the ocean, it is vast and limitless.” This quote from Solo: Islands of the Heart really stuck with me, because I don’t often find the time to look inwards and reflect on how I view my relationships. I just accept them for what they are. Team Gotham’s puzzle platformer asks both basic and tough questions about why we lose the ones we love. It helped me view my relationships in a different light and understand why I pushed people away instead of keeping them closer.
The game opens with a pair of questions, your gender and your sexual preference. The answers for gender are: Male, Female, and Non-binary. And for sexual preference, it has those three prior answers plus the option to choose bi-sexual. This is a good slew of options which help cater your upcoming adventure to your current or prior romantic preferences. These questions are posed so that when you play, you see the ghost of your former partner. Seeing a ghost representing my former partner scattered across the landscapes who is doing things by itself because you aren’t there to be with them is tough. The image of seeing my former partner sit on a swing all alone struck a chord with me. Initially, I was sad to see them without me however I slowly realized that they will find someone who will make them happier than I ever could. The more I spent interacting with the ghost, I would yearn for that but I’m the back of my mind I would always have that realization.
The core of Solo has you exploring three archipelagos which all embody a certain aspect of your relationships. One has you questioning how you see relationships. Another examines your bonds with your former lover. The last addresses the loneliness once the relationship has ended. Each of them feel distinct and this helps all of the questions feel unique.
Exploring these islands is quite simple. Solving brief climbing puzzles will allow to climb to small lighthouses to light totems. When lit, the totems come to life. Then you must find a way to the totem by using the same blocks you used to climb to the totem. Upon reaching the totems, they confront you with questions. I found these bite-sized puzzles to be mostly enjoyable. They do scale up in challenge, and some of the final puzzles were a bit difficult at times. The scaling is something which works alongside the questions being posed, as the challenge rises so does the toughness of the questions. Just as you finish a difficult puzzle, you are approached with a difficult question.
As I was beginning to spend more time exploring and answering these questions, I found myself spending more time caught up with how to respond with what was true to me. Once you finish exploring these archipelagos, you face three questions based on how you answered the questions on each set of islands. These were the moments where you have to face your decisions and come to grips with your prior answers. It’s a moment of fulfillment, and it is truly quite special.
The one gripe I have with Solo is the camera. It’s not very good. Especially on the last archipelago, where you have to fly across gaps, then stack boxes to climb. If I tried to turn it slightly it would often drift into an angle I didn’t want, even with the sensitivity turned down. During the second archipelago you have to go underground, and when I went into a corner to find an angle to place a box, the camera zoomed in completely, and it was a bit hard to navigate out of it.
Solo: Islands of the Heart is a game with a lot of heart. As someone who lives a very busy life and is often struggling to balance their relationships, this game was somewhat of a wake-up call for me. The people in my life were moving on while I was stuck keeping my head down working. Solo told me something very clear. I need to nurture my relationships, instead of letting them go on without me. I was unprepared to face the hard-hitting questions near the end, and at the end of my journey hearing the repercussions of my answers hit harder than anything in my trek. I was making peace with not only myself but my former partner as well.
This game was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro system with a review code provided by a PR representative.