Although love and relationships are recurrent themes, at its heart Solo is primarily a platform/puzzler. Prepare to spend a lot of time in “construction mode,” building towers and bridges out of blocks.
Written by: Cindy Kyser
Genre: Introspective Platform Puzzler
Release date: April 26, 2018
Developer: Team Gotham
Publisher: Team Gotham
Madrid-based Team Gotham must be feeling the love these days. Just over two years after a successful Fig campaign, Solo has launched!
The game is billed as an adventure with heart…an introspective journey focused on love and relationships. We could all use some time reflecting on love so I was ready to play when Team Gotham announced that Solo was available on Steam. JA covered preliminary details about the team and the game in our March 14th article Set Sail for Solo.
Your first task is to choose your gender (male, female, or non-binary), the gender of the person you are most likely to love, and pick an avatar. Having gotten the basics out of the way, I entered a colorful island world, launched my small sailboat, and began cruising.
A controller is a must for Solo. The function map provided did not exactly match my Steam controller, but it was close enough for government work. Key mapping is also documented but I do not believe I could have played this game with a mouse and keyboard.
Within a few minutes, it became clear that the love angle for Solo is mere gift wrapping around a game that is a primarily a platform/puzzler. Using a variety of blocks, most of your game time will be figuring out how to build a path from “point A” to “point B.”
Although there are opportunities to pet and feed wildlife, swing with an imaginary friend, water plants and connect separated animal partners, gameplay focuses on moving boxes around to reach places above or beyond your reach. There are regular boxes, bridge boxes, boxes with wind, and boxes with suction cups. There are even boxes to divert water. You are equipped with a parasail (to travel with the wind) and a magic wand (to facilitate moving boxes). You also have a guitar and a camera which are functional but not critical to the game’s plot. With music, you can make the world black and white or make it rain.
There are messages about love along the way and a series of lighthouses to activate. Each lighthouse awakens a Totem who asks you a multiple-choice question about love and relationships. Answer the question, and a new area becomes available with the next lighthouse and Totem.
The world of Solo is a complex and vibrant island paradise with new sections emerging from the sea after each Totem encounter. It is broken into 3 archipelagos, each with a large lighthouse at the end that leads to the next section. Within each section, there are optional opportunities to irrigate gardens and build bridges to connect animal pairs. There are also some required puzzles that involve recreating shadows through box placement.
In the beginning, I explored each island section with delight. I petted and fed the animals; I connected with the guides along the way; and I listened to the entities that provided snippets of dialog. I took pictures with my camera and learned to play songs on my guitar. I’m sure it was the intent of Team Gotham that I become deeply introspective with all these “happy” activities and loving messages.
Instead, I was growing more irritated by the hour. After spending 6 hours in the islands, I was still struggling to divert a water flow to make a garden bloom. This was more than tricky and I had tried an amazing array of building block combinations to no avail. I suddenly realized that I no longer cared about the flowers and was quite willing to leave them in a wilted state. I moved on only to be confronted with a new (and more complex) irrigation puzzle. I bypassed this new garden, thinking that a rain dance might be a more productive use of my time.
A few islands down, there is a wildly complicated bridge-building exercise to unite a pair of separated creatures. Since I am having my own troubles in paradise, I decide to leave them gazing at each other, across the chasm, with sad faces.
Most animals in the game are smiling as I feed them apples, cheese, and bananas, but I am not. Given that I have just demonstrated a total lack of compassion for thirsty flowers and lonely creatures, I’m sure that the Solo game engine has now classified me as a callous individual who is incapable of love!
The physical game mechanics in Solo are a bit tricky. The magic wand allows you to pick up a box, from a distance, and move it. While the box is “in transit,” you can spin it horizontally and vertically before placing it in the desired location. I think there may still be some kinks for Team Gotham to work out, as the magic wand did not behave consistently. Sometimes boxes would not respond. Other times, they would fly off to somewhere in the distance. Worst of all, they would occasionally float freely and knock me off the tower I was building. This was not a show-stopper but it did significantly slow my construction process.
Solo is played from a 3rd-person perspective in a fully 3D environment. Often the character disappears as landscape objects block your view. When this occurs, the character appears as a black outline but you cannot see where he/she/it is. At such moments, it is easy to fall off an edge or topple into the sea which may require a major effort to return to your original location. Box towers are ‘built as you go” with a limited number of blocks. If you fall, you may have to rebuild multiple structures from the ground up. To be fair, there are ladder shortcuts, but these are only activated when you reach higher ground. Couple this with tricky magic wand mechanics and cursing may become an integral part of your Solo experience.
I finally land on the 3rd archipelago and find myself in what seems to be an impossible water crossing between lighthouse and Totem. I build a platform at the edge of the island thinking I can parachute to it. Failing this, I build a dock at water level but am unable to climb onto it. I now have way too much time invested in this game and I AM DONE.
I am not a stupid gamer and I am not a lazy gamer. I thrive on creative problem-solving but I now feel as if I have been set up to fail. Perhaps I’m being punished for not watering those plants and building bridges to help the animals live happily ever after?
A day later, the answer comes to me when I least expect it. I return to Solo and finish the game. Despite having logged 16 hours on the islands, most flowers remain uncared for and most lonely animals are still flying solo. So much for Steam achievements..
I truly appreciate what Team Gotham was trying to accomplish with Solo. It is a unique idea and they impart quite a few nuggets of wisdom/truth about love and relationships. I’m not 100% sure how my answers related to the final scene. In the end, I was presented with two outcomes which seemed to be determined by one final choice. For me, deep personal reflection was eclipsed by the physical mechanics required to traverse the islands. This was exacerbated by the fickle behavior of my magic wand.
I’m not saying that Solo is a bad game or that it is too hard. It’s all about expectations. Before you embark on a solo cruise, be aware that you will be building A LOT of box-based structures. If this floats your boat, then Solo may be a perfect choice.
+ Beautiful and harmonious 3D environment to explore
+ Camera and guitar provide some creative diversions along the way
+ Deep thoughts about love and relationships are a unique feature
– Be prepared to spend most of your time in “construction mode”
– Repetitive construction of block towers and bridges may neutralize loving feelings
– Misbehaving magic wand slows progress
Graphics: NVIDIA GTX 650