Gotham Games new jam Solo: Islands of the Heart ($19.99) is an intriguing and lovely to look at mix of exploration and puzzle solving that just so happens to get you thinking about your love life from the past into whatever possibilities the future holds. While the prospect of ruminating over old romances as well as any potential future ones may seem a wee bit too personal to some, that’s one of the funnier things about the project if you think about it. Sure, you can take the questions too personally and maybe get uncomfortable about a few. That’s human nature at work. Or hell, you can just decide right off the bat to go full tilt and lie away (also human nature) just to see what sort of responses the game gives back.
As you make your way through the game, you’re tasked with solving simple to slightly more complex multi-part puzzles that involve a bit of box pushing with some flipping and rotating necessary to gain access to higher areas. There are also odd animals to meet and treat to certain foods, pet, or otherwise attend to. The game doesn’t explain a lot other than some basic steps needed to progress, but this works out well when you’re forced to think through a few steps that are keeping you from accessing a new part of the map. That said, there’s a very relaxing tone here that makes for a very chill experience when all is said and done. If you want to just take selfies or nice pics of the different islands, play a guitar and aimlessly wander about, that’s your call entirely. But dip a toe into the game proper, please. You’ll likely learn a few things or at least get a new outlook on a relationship you hadn’t considered. Or maybe have, but need a poke in the noggin to jog a good or bad memory.
Er, except the trailer kicks off with a rather useless rating for “Sexual Themes” when the game is about as or sexual as a box of laundry detergent. Well, unless boxes of laundry detergent is a turn on for you. Clearly, the ESRB needs to redefine its ratings descriptors. Perhaps something like “Mature Themes” would have been more applicable here. Of course, a penny says someone at the board would likely note that using the word “Mature” may lead some to think the game should be “M” rated or some such nonsense. Eh, go look at all the sexual in this trailer:
If anything, I’d cheer the game for embracing non-binary relationships while also criticizing it for its lack of diversity in character options. Yep, a color slider or a few more character options over three generic but cute young to old body types would have made this a shade more enjoyable (pun intended). Then again, as a game that seems to take place inside one’s mind, I’ve had dreams where I’m someone or something else and I can’t say I’ve every complained about that. What’s here works well enough to be entertaining, although the game camera can be a bit finicky in some spots until you fiddle around with the options and it works a bit better.
Back to those “uncomfortable” questions for a bit. They’re definitely made to get you to think about everything from the reasons a breakup occurred to whether or not you believe you can be happy with one or more than one partner. Yeah, I guess that will be too much for some players, but as a fan of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, a game that gets downright in your face in regards to desires and preferences before tilting the experience to cater a bit to your responses, Solo’s queries are simpler stuff that dig deeper and it’s kind of welcome that such a charming looking game gets your grey matter percolating on a subject many mainstream games gloss over or bury under pure fantasy tropes.
So, just who is this game for anyway? I’d gather those in love, out of love or curious about elements of love in regards to relationships should try this, while those who hate the very idea of any relationships in games that don’t involve a cold body count, introspection or other personal bits will want to pass. But who’s to say someone out there with no interest whatsoever might not play this on a friend’s PC or console and get a slight to moderate Grinch-like heart warm from this sleeper? Hey, anything is possible under the proper circumstances, right? There’s replay value here if you want to get all possible responses (feel free to lie away) and sure, Gotham deserves a thumbs up for making a game that’s going to get some feathers ruffled with a few interesting questions on one aspect of life some tend to avoid.
Score: B- (80%)
Review code provided by Merge Games