Solo: Islands of the Heart Casts Off for Puzzling Archipelagos of Romance

Life can be lonely but it doesn’t have to be.  Sometimes years go by with friends and work filling in the time, or the days proceed one after the boring-old-other without the sense that there’s anyone to share them with, and then things get better.  With a little luck and some personal compromises the odds are good someone will show up to share one’s life with.  Solo: Islands of the Heart is a 3D puzzle semi-platformer that wants to know how you think about love and relationships, taking your sailor-self from one island to another and asking very personal questions of you, the player.  It’s a setup designed to get you thinking, first limbering up the brain with a series of block-based puzzles to reach a lighthouse, and then switching from logic to emotion as the idol woken by the lighthouse’s beacon asks how you feel about your current relationship.

At the start of the game it asks you to play as male, female, or non-binary, then choose the object of your affection from male/female/non-binary/don’t care.  This is great to see and goes a long way to prove right off the bat that Solo is taking the romance aspect seriously, and then it’s off to the islands and puzzling your way from one question to the next.  Pile up blocks, activate lighthouse, “How would you handle a long distance relationship?” with an A, B, or C set of answers to pick from.  Find a parachute, use it to glide down over gaps, open up the next area, “Do you need personal space apart from your love?”  Each question, no matter how it’s answered, raises a new island from the sea, many of which have optional puzzles as well as the main goal of reaching the lighthouse.  Find a banana and give it to a scared critter to befriend it, or play a tune on the guitar your character is lugging around, and the island gets a little prettier than before.

It’s all meant to be contemplative, a slow-paced stroll through puzzles and your own emotions, but it can get a bit judgmental too.  In the spirit of the game being about romance there’s a ghost of the object of your affection who shows up regularly, helping to activate machinery or just hanging out on a swing, and they frequently talk about the earlier choices.  It sometimes frets if the answer to a question isn’t the most romantic one possible, which seeing as the emotional part is supposed to be about one’s real-world relationship kind of breaks the immersion.  My wife knows who I am and that I’ve got stuff to do that she’s not interested in, and she’s happy about that because it gives her time to do her stuff that I don’t take part in, so having her Romantic Avatar being concerned about the “personal space” answer just felt wrong, as if it was someone else’s opinion on how she should feel.  Still, Solo is a pretty, calm, contemplative puzzle-platformer that gives multiple options to solving its islands without railroading you to the “right” solution, and it’s fun to think about each question as it comes up.

Solo: Islands of the Heart has been out on PC for a while but released today on PS4 and Xbox One, and its Switch version goes live tomorrow.