I love playing random little games that I’d never even heard of and then getting pleasantly surprised when I end up really enjoying them. It’s happened a lot over the last few years, especially with some of the indie releases that have arrived on the Nintendo Switch, and I’m glad to report that Solo: Islands of the Heart is the latest release to add to my ever-growing list of indie gems on the platform. It’s a far way from being perfect, but its blend of puzzling gameplay and its captivating narrative involving ‘love’ makes for an intriguing experience overall.
The bulk of Solo: Islands of the Heart is spent exploring vivid islands, solving simple yet clever puzzles, and then answering genuinely touching questions about love. It’s a combination that could perhaps be accused of being a little bit pretentious, but it actually works well to offer a charming little journey for players to embark on.
The world of Solo: Islands of the Heart is peaceful, with each step you take across the islands feeling like a moment of solace for the player. It features one of those worlds that’s just pleasant to be a part of, and whilst you don’t necessarily interact with it all that much, it’s easy to appreciate all of its little details.
One thing I really liked was playing my guitar in-game. Don’t go expecting some Guitar Hero-esque mini-game or something, but rather just harmonic tunes that change up the island in a variety of creative ways. You learn more songs as you progress and they all do something a little different, though never in a way that’s demanded in order to progress – it’s a nice feature that’s included in the game just because.
Something which isn’t always nice (though not in a bad way) are the questions about love that’re asked of the player every so often. Now it’s easy to not necessarily take these questions seriously, but if you embrace the mind-set that the game demands you’ll find that they’re quite meaningful and show the fragilities of relationships as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t do enough to get me too emotionally engaged with the experience, but it’s hard to deny that it was presented in an evocative and touching way.
On the puzzling side of things, you’ll mainly be arranging boxes to put together make-shift platforms to reach different areas of the map. It might sound a little simple – and in fairness it can be – but Solo: Islands of the Heart keeps it interesting by introducing different objects to interact with and by increasing the intricacy of each puzzle. Each type of box you can interact with does something different too, so you’ve got to carefully figure out how they work and how best to utilise them if you want to get through some of the game’s more challenging segments.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing here that you wouldn’t have seen before and it’s also clear that the puzzling elements of the game aren’t necessarily at the forefront, but they add a neat assortment of enigmas for players to solve in-between exploring the island and answering questions about love.
For the most part, Solo: Islands of the Heart offers an easy-going gameplay experience, though the controls could be guilty of feeling a little fiddly at times. Moving the boxes around (as well as the moments of platforming) demands a precision that isn’t always there, and it could prove a little frustrating. The camera doesn’t always track the player perfectly either, though it’s not a constant problem throughout the game – instead, it’s something that crops up here and there when working across particular sections of the islands. Neither of these problems make Solo: Islands of the Heart less enjoyable to play, but they’re noticeable nonetheless.
It should only take around four hours or so to complete Solo: Islands of the Heart, though that feels long enough. Whilst the world is lovely to explore and the puzzles fun to solve, neither have the depth required to really absorb the player into the game for too long. Whilst I wasn’t necessarily itching for the game to end, the conclusion came at the perfect moment for me not to start to tire of the game’s simplicity.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is Solo: Islands of the Heart visuals. I’m a huge fan of vibrant worlds and colourful aesthetic styles, and it’s something that the game embraces perfectly. The world itself doesn’t feature overly complicated structures nor is it full to the brim with detailed textures or objects, yet it’s so charming and lively that it’s hard not feel besotted by it all. That being said, there could be a few graphical glitches along the way and the performance could be jerky at times too. It’s nothing terrible or unplayable, but it’s clear that the Nintendo Switch port does suffer a little when compared to its PC counterpart.
I went into Solo: Islands of the Heart with very little in the form of expectations, but it ended up being a charming little adventure that I’m genuinely glad I got to play through.
It doesn’t do anything overly thrilling on the gameplay side of things whilst the concept of answering questions about love could be guilty of feeling a little pretentious, but if you get yourself in the mind-set that the game demands you’ll find that you can have a surprisingly meaningful experience. It doesn’t outstay its welcome either, which is a necessity for a title that doesn’t have the most invigorating of gameplay mechanics.
There’s no doubting that Solo: Islands of the Heart won’t be for everyone, but those who’d enjoy an evocative little journey that does something different will certainly want to check it out.
Developer: Team Gotham
Publisher: Merge Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC