Solo (PC) review: What is Love?

What does romantic love mean to you? That’s a question that Solo wants you to think about—to really, really think about. What would you sacrifice for love? What does love look like? What does love feel like? Have you ever truly been in love? Will you ever love again?

Solo is, in essence, a sort of love-themed personality questionnaire, wrapped in a puzzle game. An initial question about your current relationship status determines the broad strokes of the story and the sorts of questions asked. After that, the game takes you in a journey across the “islands of your mind”, solving puzzles and answering questions as a way of reflecting on your own thoughts, beliefs, and experiences with love.

The puzzles themselves are fairly simple in design. Each island has a lighthouse and a magical stone totem, and by creatively stacking blocks, you have to find your way to each of them. Touching the lighthouse wakes up the totem, who then asks you a question before pulling the next island up from the sea.

Making the most of a few different block types is key to solving each puzzle. There are blocks that shoot a jet of air, which you can use to propel yourself higher than you’d otherwise be able to climb, or to make the block hover a few squares above the ground; there are bridge blocks, which extend a bridge a few squares in one direction when placed; there are sticky blocks, which can stack to walls or other blocks, and have other blocks attached to them in turn; and there are the good old regular wooden crates. To help, you also have a parachute, with which you can glide across short distances, and a magical staff that lets you move blocks from afar.

With those few tools, Solo presents increasingly devious puzzles to overcome. Early puzzles have to simply stacking blocks to create makeshift stairways, but later puzzles will have you positioning and repositioning blocks to scale cliff faces, build bridges, or create sufficiently high platforms from which to glide to the next piece of land.

In most cases, there isn’t a single solution, and creativity goes a long way in solving the puzzles that Solo throws up. I didn’t find many of the puzzles too challenging, and I tend to struggle with the sort of spatial problem solving that the game demands—your mileage may vary. At the same time, it’s easy to get yourself trapped, trying to make something work that just can’t, until you go away, cool your head, and then come back and try a different approach.

It’s here that Solo‘s puzzle tie into the its broader themes. Love isn’t easy; it takes work, it takes creativity, and sometimes it takes a cool head in a heated moment. As the game’s puzzles get more challenging, so too do the questions it asks you: could you give up your passion for your love? Do (or would) you hate someone who broke your heart? Is romantic love more important than family?

Naturally, there are no correct answers to any of these questions. Even if you choose the answers that seem the most hopeful or positive, Solo finds ways to sow seeds of doubt through interactions with a ghost-like vision of your love. Say you’d give up your passion, and this spirit will worry that they’re making you unhappy; say you wouldn’t, and they’ll wonder how much you really care for them.

And so, through this simple loop of puzzle solving and personal questions, Solo endeavours to get you to really plumb the depths of your heart and reflect on what love means to you. It can be an unpleasant experience at times, particularly when a truthful answer isn’t necessarily a happy one, but the end result is a deeper, better understanding of yourself.

Of course, you only get out what you put in, so all of that hinges on you being open and truthful in your answers—something that the game explicitly encourages from the outset. This isn’t the sort of “choice and consequence” designed around seeing how different decisions play out; is not baring your soul in a mirror so that you can better understand what you see.

Solo does find a few ways to balance out the heavy themes at its core. With its dreamlike presentation, ambient music, charming low-poly graphics, and nautical imagery, the game creates a soothing, relaxing environment to get lost in. The colours of each island’s vegetation changes depending on the questions asked and answers given, but they’re always bright and colourful.

If you want something more moody, you can switch to a monochrome display—something achieved by playing a certain tune on your character’s guitar. Other tunes (which can all be found in-game) let you manipulate the weather, or get the attention of nearby animals. None of these things has any direct impact on the game itself, but through the guitar, Solo is good at letting you set the tone of your adventure.

Sidequests also help lighten the mood. Some have you helping to reunite animal couples by building bridges between them; others have you helping plants grow by using blocks to redirect water streams. There’s an optional objective of petting all the animals across all the islands, and a couple of NPCs will ask you to take photos of certain things with the in-game camera.

Whether quest-based or not, you can dare any photos you take to Twitter, and the camera even has a selfie option, if you want your shots to have a more personal touch. As is the case in so many games with photo modes, photography is a great way to just unwind and enjoy the world the around. Similarly, Solo offers lots of opportunities to just put the controller down and let the ambience wash over you, as your character swings on a swing or lies back in the grass to watch the clouds go by.

That all builds Solo up to be an incredibly relaxing game, which is the perfect backdrop for the kind of introspection that the game encourages. A lot of games give you a playground to get lost in, but few do it with as much purpose and weight as this one. If you’re in the mood for a bit of soul searching, Solo is a game you don’t want to miss.

Recommended


Solo is developed and published by Team Gotham. It’s available now for PC (reviewed).

A copy of the game was supplied by the publisher for this review.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.