Are you looking for a short, compelling game with a zen atmosphere and puzzles? Look no further. I was immediately enamored with Solo: Islands of the Heart as soon as I booted it up. Not only was I swept away by the whimsically beautiful graphics and soothing soundtrack, but I loved the fact that the developers Merge Games made this inclusive. The gender select screen offers the choice of female, male, and non-binary, while the love interest options include those selections plus “any”, which will randomly select a romantic partner for you. This is such a simple concept, but so many games overlook this aspect. Merge Games should be applauded for their efforts in this regard alone.
The core gameplay revolves around using different types of blocks to access higher ground and new islands. You start off with only standard blocks, but as you progress further you are also given sticky blocks, fan blocks, and conveyer belt blocks to aid in your journey. There are also side missions you can partake in, such as taking photos for residents of the island, finding letters in tents, interacting with the ghost of your partner, or feeding the local animals. The puzzles are pretty simple for the most part, with only a few that stumped me.
The biggest draw of Solo for me was its narrative about love and relationships. You are asked questions about your personal relationship and experiences, which inform the text in the game and the colors of the islands themselves. Your partner will even ask a contradictory question after you answer, which provokes thought about what you really think. I adored how all of the answers I gave wrapped up at the end into an introspective summary of my personality and the way that I love not only my partner, but myself and others.
The only small niggles I had with Solo were the fact that the puzzles could become repetitive and the controls could be somewhat finicky. There’s only so many times you can do the same puzzle without becoming a little bored, and the controls not responding to where I wanted to place a box were often trickier than the puzzles themselves. The length is also something potential players should keep in mind. My playthrough took about two hours, which was the perfect length for me, but others may want more bang for their buck. Otherwise, I didn’t experience any graphical or audio issues.
Overall, Solo: Islands of the Heart was a charming, beautiful, and soothing game that provoked thought and inner introspection. The writing is stunning yet simple, the graphics are charming, and the music provided a soothing backdrop for the puzzle solving. I only wish there had been more variety in the puzzles and better controls.
-Inclusive gender and romance options
*Thank you to Merge Games, Team Gotham, and Terminals for providing me with a review code!
**All images and video belong to Merge Games and Team Gotham