Adventure Gamers Awards
At first glance, the world of Solo looks like the perfect getaway: a house on an island surrounded by endless blue ocean, with swimming turtles and occasional cute wild animals that you can feed. Underneath the façade of this scenic vacation, though, lies a journey of self-discovery and recollections of love, as ancient totems and spirits await with questions only you can answer. The unexpected marriage between puzzle-adventure and introspective quizzes makes Solo a rare experience where you actually get to learn a bit more about yourself by the end and have fun doing it.
In Solo you play as yourself, represented by an avatar based on the gender (including non-binary) and model of your choice, as you sail away to reflect on your love life and relationships while solving puzzles from island to island, guided by the ghost of your ‘lover’ and various spirits throughout the archipelago. The main goal in each new setting is to reach a talking totem sitting on a cliff or nearby island and answer a personal question. Whether you’re freshly heartbroken, currently in love, or never had any experience with romantic relationships before, you can spill your story to the totems.
Along your island-hopping trip, you’ll notice that each new question is always related to the previous one, or even your previous answer. The totems weave a narrative out of your stories, so one player might have a different narrative chain than another, depending on the choices made. Each question touches a different subject and presents you with possible situations that may appear during a relationship – something about intimacy, career choices, family, and so on, and they are meaningful enough that with each one I always stopped and contemplated for a while. I wanted to pick the one that was closest to what has happened in my life, or at least imagine what I’d do in such a scenario.
The developers stress the importance of being as honest as possible, right from the very beginning, claiming: ‘…to get the most of the experience, we encourage you to think and answer based on your lived experiences.’ While you don’t have to do so, particularly if you wish to experience some of the other options, I chose to follow this advice. Because in the end, this journey was my journey, in a sense. I wanted to arrive at an ending that’s based on my truth and principles and not anybody else’s.
Between the quizzes, you get to relax and enjoy the islands, maybe chill out and play your guitar a little bit, take a few pretty Polaroid photos, or simply sit and enjoy the tranquil ocean view. My personal favorite leisure activity is probably the swings on the edge of the cliffs. Moving the thumbstick up and down will swing you forward and back, just like you would on a real swing with your legs!
This is one of the reasons why playing with a gamepad is highly recommended – as suggested in the loading screen – even though an option for keyboard/mouse control is also available. If you want to experiment, you can even switch between the two just by pressing a key on your keyboard or a button on your controller. But using analog sticks to maneuver around the islands definitely feels a lot more natural, as does freely adjusting the camera all around you.
You won’t want to rush, however, as it’s hard not to get lost in the serene island atmosphere. With soft strums of acoustic guitar in the background, accompanied by the calming waves of the ocean, it almost feels like time here never moves forward. It might be the neverending sunshine that washes over the land or the relaxed movements of the local creatures that made my whole adventure seem to have happened in just a single long Saturday afternoon, when in reality I actually spent more than twelve hours playing.
There’s an all-around lightness in the way the environment looks. The vividly-colored objects are stylish renderings of cubes and spheres, with round shapes seen in the humans, totems, and adorable little creatures living on the islands, while squares are evident in the shapes of the islands themselves and their buildings. This approach also translates into the flora and other island details, with tree branches that bend at right angles, and thick leaves formed by soft-edged cubes. The minimalist presence of familiar shapes makes these landscapes feel like a safe haven to clear your mind. The only danger you might have to encounter is perhaps the nostalgic memories of your own relationships.
As tranquil as it is, Solo isn’t just a walk down memory lane. Every time you step onto a new island, a number of boxes (more squares, though some of them assymetrical) magically drop from the sky, scattering around the perimeter to be picked up. These are used to reach the lighthouse on each island, which is usually located on higher ground or a nearby island separated from the main one. You can pick one up by hand or by using your magic wand to move them someplace else, stack them together to climb to higher ground, or position them in a certain way to create ‘bridges’ to cross. Each box comes with a distinct function; for example, one of them has a fan that blow you upwards, so if you climb on it you can sort of ‘glide’ on the wind. What’s cool is that you can also rotate each box both vertically and horizontally, creating even more possibilities to solve a puzzle. If you flip that fan box upside down, you’ll basically get a box hovering in the air!Continued on the next page...