You know those light reflection puzzles that often crop up in action adventure games, where you have to move and rotate mirrors in order to reflect a beam of light? Solas 128 takes that concept and expands it out to a whole game, with a dose of colour theory, interlocking puzzles, and even a rhythm element, of a sort. That might sound bizarre on paper, but in practice, it works brilliantly—especially when coupled with a synthwave soundtrack and neon, circuit board-esque presentation.
The basic idea is simple: for each puzzle, you have to use mirrors to direct a beam of light—or, sometimes, multiple beams—through a maze of different obstacles in order to reach a designated target. A limited number of mirrors, not all of which can be moved and/or rotated, makes figuring out the right placement for each one the cornerstone of each puzzle.
Solas 128 takes that basic beam deflection concept and adds a whole bunch of new layers to it. Colour is a big one, with targets often requiring a specific colour of light that you can only get by passing your beam through prisms and coloured filters or combining different coloured beams into one. If you’re starting with a white light and need to hit a red target, for instance, you’re going to need to pass it through a prism to split the beam into primary colours, or through a cyan filter that eliminates blue and green light, leaving only red. (We’re dealing with light, so the primary colours are red, green, and blue.)
Conversely, you’ll often need to combine colours by reflecting different beams in such a way that they cross paths and merge into one—like blending a blue beam and a green one in order to hit a yellow target. (If you don’t already know the RGB colour wheel like the back of your hand, Solas 128 will soon make sure that you do.) Merging has the added benefit of altering the angle, too; normally, your beams are limited to right angles, but when two perpendicular beams merge, they find a middle ground in a 45 degree angle.
Even with this much focus on colour as a key aspect of game design, Solas 128 doesn’t let that get in the way of accessibility. Each different colour has its own unique icon that displays as part of the beam, and these icons are specifically designed to allow them to combine in the same way that the colours themselves do. In other words, the icon for a yellow beam takes the icons for red and green and merges them, with the result being a distinct icon of its own. It’s a great example of accessible design, and neatly rejects the common assumption that colour-centric game mechanics can’t be made colourblind-accessible.
Then there’s the rhythm element. Every beam of light in Solas 128 has little pulses that move forward, perfectly in time with the music, one grid space per beat. It’s these pulses, more than the light itself, that activate the various other effects in the game, so when timing is a factor, you need to position your mirrors in such a way that a pulse gets where it needs to go exactly on the right beat. As an example, crossed beams will only merge when two pulses collide; if they don’t, the beams will cross over one another uninterrupted. Depending on the puzzle in question, either of those outcomes might be desirable.
A pulse will continue to move along its path until it collides with something, regardless of what happens to the beam behind it. While many puzzles mostly treat the beam as a continuous thing—targets require three consecutive pulses to activate, for instance, to prevent taking any shortcuts by quickly repositioning mirrors around a single pulse—there’s occasionally a need to send a single pulse off on its own journey. You don’t generally want a switch repeatedly activating and deactivating, for example, so you need to let a single pulse through before quickly redirecting the beam behind it.
Solas 128 isn’t a rhythm game, as such. There’s not anything that requires that sort of precise, beat-matched timing for any actions that you do as a player (even that lone pulse example gives you a window of a couple of seconds). Rather, it’s a game where rhythm has to be factored into the way every beam of light and every pulse moves, and what that means for how you go about solving puzzles.
And finally, there’s the interconnected nature of the puzzles. Solas 128 is made up of around 150 different puzzles, and while each one is mostly self-contained, it’s not uncommon for them to feed into one another. At the most basic level, the target for one level is the starting point for the next, with each beam of light keeping its colour as it moves through the “gate” between levels. Most of the time, that’s a simple, predetermined state: a level has one target of a specified colour, so that’s exactly what the next one will start with, and the puzzle design flows from there.
But sometimes, you’ll have options. You might have two different targets, each one feeding into different “rooms” within the next level, requiring you to jump back and forth between the two stages so that you can activate different aspects of the latter puzzle in turn. Sometimes you’ll have a puzzle that branches off, letting go down different routes (that will eventually collide again, but sometimes not after a while). Each puzzle is its own thing, but also part of a much bigger map that you can freely move around, adjusting old solutions as necessary.
There are puzzles that need you to find ways to transport mirrors and other objects from one puzzle to the next, using little overlapping spaces along the boundaries between them. There are puzzles that loop back on themselves after going through another to get a colour change or to split a beam in two. There are puzzles that, when solved, move or remove obstacles from across the whole map, opening the door to new solutions and new paths in puzzles you’d solved previously.
All these different things come together to make Solas 128 a deep, complicated, fascinating web of puzzle-solving that’s constantly playing with new ideas and finding creative interpretations of its basic rules. It’s a game that gets fiendishly difficult, sometimes to a fault—there’s a hint system, but it’s limited and often not all that helpful, and the game doesn’t always do a great job of introducing new ideas in a clear way. But the other side of that coin is a series of truly genius puzzles that make brilliant use of those core ideas, and are a true delight to solve.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.