Published on August 7th, 2019 | by John Werner
Solo: Islands of the Heart Xbox One Review
Summary: Challenge and discover yourself in this beautiful puzzle adventure of the heart
“Solo: Islands of the Heart” is a challenging and inspiring puzzle game from Merge Games. Take a journey through a beautiful ocean world populated only by islands and the adorable creatures that inhabit them. On your adventure, you’ll discover self-truths about love, relationships, and what they mean to you as the player.
“Solo: Islands of the Heart” is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered or heard of. Without giving too much away, everyone who plays this game is going to have a different experience. In my case, “Solo” made me think about what it means to be in love as a married man.
As a game, “Solo” can be broken down into two parts that simultaneously blend together to make a challenging and possibly life-changing game. The first of which is a series of box platform puzzles. Here, the player needs to arrange wooden crates into bridges and platforms as they navigate their way across the three large archipelagos. Scattered around the islands are giant sleeping totems that need to be woken up. Your goal is to find and activate the beacons that will awake the totems. This is where the second part of the game comes into play. Once the totem has been woken, you then proceed to its location and talk to it. Each totem will proceed to offer you some worldly advice followed by a single question. The question can be answered in one of three ways and there is no right or wrong answer. However, all questions asked in the game stem from the same theme; love and relationships.
Rather than playing as a fictional character, you play as a sailor who represents you as a person. When you start your adventure, you’re asked three simple questions: your gender, your sexuality, and your name. All of these questions, like every other question in the game, play an important part whether you realize it or not. The most noticeable impact you’ll make is the appearance/gender of your significate other. But regardless of what choices you make at the start of the game, only the visual appearances will be affected. Everything else is pretty much the same regardless of what you end up deciding. However, even though there isn’t much in the way of options, what these decisions represent will create a bigger impact the more you become invested in the game.
During my playthrough of this game, I found myself in a unique position having only tied the knot late last year. So, naturally, love and affection towards my wife is quite an occurring topic in my life. This made it rather easy when filling out the mini questionnaire at the start of the game. Unfortunately, that’s about the point where the game stops giving you any sort of direction. As soon as the adventure begun, very little instruction was provided, and it took me a few moments to figure out that the game had started. Watching as my avatar sat in a chair on the front porch of his hut, I thought that I was watching a cut scene. It was only when I pressed buttons on the controller, did he jump out of his chair and start moving around. You’d think with a game like this, that’s clearly narrative-driven, it would do something to help set the tone of the game. Once I reached my boat located at the far end of the island, I started to realize what this game was about.
Written on the stern of my little sailboat was my wife’s name. Suddenly, I realized what the bigger picture was, what “Solo” was truly about, and why it had been called as such. I know that it would be at this point in the review that I unravel the big mystery that I now know the answer to, but I won’t. As much as it pains me to keep this to myself, it would only ruin the experience of playing it for yourself. All I can say is that “Solo” is a puzzle game that holds up a mirror to the heart and it would be pointless to tell you what is in my heart when it is your responsibility to discover what is in yours.
Love and relationships aside, “Solo: Islands of the Heart” is quite a challenging game despite its playful appearance. As players progress through the world, new game mechanics are introduced, forcing players to constantly think outside of the box (pun intended). However, most of these mechanics are introduced early in the game such as a box that produces a gust of wind and the parachute. After that, the introduction of other elements is far and few. As a result, most of the puzzles become somewhat repetitive. I wouldn’t rule this off as a bad thing as puzzle games generally require progressive level development in order to build players up to harder challenges. As someone who is already quite experienced with problem-solving, I breezed through the first half of the game. It wasn’t until the end of the second archipelago that I started to encounter more challenging puzzles. The issue I found with this is that “Solo” isn’t a very long game and can be completed within a week of casual playing.
In addition to the main questline of box puzzles are a handful of mini side quests. These puzzles are optional but add to the overall atmosphere of the game. I personally enjoyed the puzzles where I had to help build a path between two in love pigs. Although, I’m still not sure what kind of animal these pigs were meant to be, it was quite heartwarming seeing them reunited. Other puzzles include taking photos with a camera, watering plants, or playing tunes on your guitar.
“Solo: Islands of the Heart” is one of the most unique games I’ve played to date. A hybrid between a box puzzle game and a love/relationship personality test, developer Merge Games has done an amazing job to make the collaboration feel very natural. Everything about this game seems to just fit, even though some elements are purely cosmetic or explained in great detail. Two small issues I do have with the game is the controls for the camera and the user interface. Neither is a deal-breaker, but a little bit of tweaking from the developer and a patch could quite easily improve these minor issues. That been said, I do worry about the difficulty of the game. Given the relationship-based aspect of the game, I would have loved for my wife to have played this game but feel that the puzzles might be too challenging. Overall, I do recommend this game for anyone over the ages of 16. I guarantee that you’ll learn something about yourself and what you want in life!