During my time writing for Gamespace I’ve had the opportunity to play an army of indie puzzlers. From tongue in cheek monkey Island merchants through to the indescribably atmospheric Rime, they have all brought their own twist on a classic genre. Solo, out now on PC, drops anchor somewhere just off the coast of Rime and is an unusually introspective experience.
Developed by Team Gotham, Solo puts players in the shoes of a diminutive sailor, as they set out on an adventure across land and sea, solving puzzles, saving wildlife, and delving into the deepest fathoms of their own emotions. Like Rime, it attempts to paint a magical picture of the world using bold swathes of pastel colors and a blissful seaside setting. Unlike Rime, which softens this very definite use of color to create a sense that the world has been built on canvas, Solo introduces a series of hard edges that make it feel more like a Duplo construction than a Mediterranean masterpiece. It is still equally charming but in a more innocent way.
As players set out on this adventure there is not a great deal of exposition. Thankfully, this is entirely unnecessary. Controls are intuitive and the player character roves around the opening island with relative ease. Objects and other adorable animals are available to interact with. This ensures that by the time you set sail for the horizon, the limited number of available actions are all easily understood.
As a general rule, players interact with objects and animals using the same singular set of action keys. Boxes can be moved or rotated, switches activated, and conversation initiated as you make your way across a number of archipelagos. Solo is a mix of puzzle solving and interactive dialogue, with much of the game’s environment used as a platform for a dive into the human psyche. Puzzles mostly consist of shuffling boxes around, allowing you to clamber over the terrain, and it is hardly difficult. Despite some obvious attempts to keep things fresh, the content does never really feels like more than a canvas to the games underlying emotional journey. During this journey across a variety of cute terrain, several additional achievements await. Solving quick and easy problems result in a few adorable outcomes on screen. Repairing a bridge, for example, reunites two lovestruck animals, who they proceed to waddle off together.
It is also indicative of my issues with Solo. While a simple puzzle system is no bad thing this places a real emphasis on the narrative, or in this case the introspective experience. Completing a particular section of the game allows players to activate totems. These ask a series of questions, clearly intended to make players consider their own views on relationships. Things do get off to a positive start when the opening screen asks players to pick a male, female, or non-binary gender. It indicates that the game will explore a number of themes and ideas that might be quite challenging for some players. However, what could be a challenging and thought-provoking experience ultimately felt tedious and limiting for me.
Narrative choices come in sets of three and have a tendency to miss any nuance. When exploring love, and expressing a tendency for more open relationships, players represented with a ghostly avatar that instantly asks if you will cheat on them. For somebody that has had these sort of discussions, and resolved these questions, it feels both tedious and reductive. Moreover, the game feels like it is targeted at audiences that tend towards players in a traditional binary relationship.
Still, Solo is not without merit. It is an ambitious and charming attempt to take players on a different adventure. The emphasis on emotional exploration just seems to feel slightly blunt. If you are looking for a charming puzzle game that sweeps you away, that has gorgeous graphics and amazingly written subtext, try Journey or Rime. Solo, is an ultimately laudable attempt that sails off course somewhat.