Solo: Islands of the Heart is a puzzle game by Team Gotham that spends more time exploring the concept of love rather than offering anything remotely amusing or challenging to take part in. Despite the serene and calming feel to it all, ambitiously artistic intentions aren’t enough to justify what is, in reality, a dull and flat game with little substance or longevity to it.
After picking an avatar for you and your partner, you set off on your sailboat to a magical island. If you’re expecting boatloads of exposition and lengthy cutscenes, then prepare yourself for further disappointment. The plot is minimalistic, at best. Instead, what you’re offered are questions about your views on relationships, trust, passion and the like. Some of them feel are quite philosophical and thought-provoking, enough for you to stop for a few moments to reflect, though they might feel a bit too personal for some.
The core basis of the game is to awaken a totem pole by shining a miniature lighthouse on it. They’re often located on rocky bits of terrain that you can’t walk or climb toward with minimal effort, so you’ll need to stack boxes in order to reach these. Aside from the basic wooden crates, there are some that have fans or extendable bridges on them. Once you reach the totem, it will shine a beam of light toward the sea, where another chunk of the island will be revealed for you to explore… only to discover it’s home to another block puzzle that must be solved in order to progress. You need to keep doing this over and over until you reach a big lighthouse, which will reveal new land in the distance for you to sail toward. Challenging though it may be at times, it’s all too samey and lacks variety with its puzzles. For a 3D adventure game, it feels like it’s just wasting potential, as there’s little reason to keep explore areas you’ve already been through.
You’ve got a few tools at your disposal. You can take snaps with a camera, and can play a ditty with a guitar (you can do so by poking the right analogue stick in one of four directions). These are used to complete some of the side-quests in the game – like taking snaps of red birds or playing songs a la The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – which are totally optional and don’t really have a major effect on anything. The parachute will let you glide around gracefully, perfect for reaching areas that are just out of reach. By far the most usef ul item is the enchanted staff, perfect for picking up crates from afar. Having to place the boxes in a specific location is a bit of a faff, no thanks to the sensitive cursor and awkward camera.
Despite frequent texture pop-up issues, Solo: Islands of the Heart does looks quite appealing with its unabashedly vibrant visuals and bright colours, even if they aren’t particularly detailed. While its framerate could’ve been a lot smoother, it runs well enough when docked and in handheld mode. The sound queues are quite soothing, much like the soundtrack that never feels intrusive or unwelcome.
Ultimately, Solo: Islands of the Heart comes up as a hollow puzzler. Philosophical questions and pretentious poems are in abundance, and there’s a lack of incentive to explore the islands. The side-quests just feel like brief time-wasters, too. Love-struck gamers with a pendancy for artsy games may feel at home with a title like this, mostly thanks to its soothing atmosphere and colourful visuals, but it’s just so difficult to find reasons to love this game.
Code supplied by developers.