Video games in recent times have evolved. Not just graphically and in terms of actual gameplay, developers have now been able to tackle all kinds of different topics in their games, from politics to more personal issues. One particular concept that hasn’t really been touched on (at an abstract level at least) is love. At the risk of a certain song getting stuck in my head, what is love?
Sure, many of gaming’s classics have love as their basis; person A saves person B for love, person A avenges person B’s death for love etc. but it’s not often that a game breaks the fourth wall and directly asks the player what their feelings are on the subject.
The newest game from Team Gotham does just that.
Solo sees players take control of a sailor who is exploring a small group of islands. The puzzles are mainly based around moving various blocks around to build structures that enable you to reach different parts of the levels. New islands are revealed by activating totems, who each present you with different questions about your feelings towards the concept of love.
The game begins with players creating their character by answering a few short questions, such as “What is your gender?” and “What gender would you like to love?”. The simple fluidity of the choices in this section (such as the inclusion of “non-binary” as an option) makes the experience feel so much more inclusive, and immediately sets the tone for the rest of the game. While it seems like a minor feature to some, having the option to see things portrayed in this way is a great step forward for representation in gaming.
During your journey, you meet a variety of surreal characters across the several islands. Strange Animal Crossing-esque wildlife, floating guardians that speak in poetic-like dialogue and weird vegetable-looking characters that offer side quests. This small cast of characters adds to Solo‘s charm, and none of them ever feel like unnecessary NPC filler.
Most important of these characters are the game-progressing totems who, when awakened, pose questions about your relationship with love. Be it in the context of gender, traumatic experiences or just the general concept of the word, Solo effectively approaches the topic with the right amount of sensitivity and thoughtfulness, in a medium that could all too easily have fallen flat on its face. While there are no “right” or “wrong” answers to these questions, they’re all down to personal opinion, so the game gently forces you to confront your answers with a ghostly representation of your loved one that appears sporadically throughout the game. It’s rare to see a topic like this explored in such a direct way through a game, and it definitely works wonders.
The gameplay element of arranging boxes to gain access to other parts of the islands and progressing further into the archipelago is all compacted into a relatively small space, which does result in some rather erratic camera angles at times. The puzzles themselves are simple enough for players of any experience to get through, but these box-based conundrums don’t vary too far past the “stack these up in a certain way” solutions. With the in-game world of Solo being so rich and vibrant, it would have been interesting to see some different puzzle types to play around with, but this doesn’t detract massively from the overall experience.
Besides the main puzzles, there are a number of interesting optional side quests to discover. Ranging from snapping photos of rare birds to befriending the local wildlife with food, these little missions never feel out-of-place and are varied enough to keep the game interesting.
Upon first glance, it is obvious that the game’s visual style is hugely influenced by the vibrant cel-shaded graphics of games such as The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker and RiME, but by no means is that a bad thing. The characters are adorably cute, the world design is simply stunning and when mixed with the game’s serene soundtrack, these factors help make players feel like they’re on a tranquil, exotic holiday.
Solo is a beautiful game in a number of ways. It gently persuades players to think about their attitudes towards the concept of love without ever feeling soppy or insensitive, while the visual (and audio) style solidifies the game as an undeniably chilled out and pleasant experience. While the puzzles do start to feel a little too easy after a while, Solo‘s atmosphere and writing will ultimately win you over, one philosophically contemplative question at a time.
- Uniquely personal branching narrative.
- Peaceful, meditative music and sounds.
- Fantastically vibrant art style.
- The camera can be quite erratic at times.
- Puzzles are a bit too simple.
Solo is available now on PC via Steam.
A review code was kindly provided by the developer.