It’s funny what association can do for a game’s appeal. I picked up Solo (which, by the way, there are MANY films and properties with which Solo shares a name, so well done for finding this review, really appreciate it bud) because, and basically purely because, it reminded me of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. Entirely different genres, budgets, developers, consoles, amount of strange talking bird-people (hint; Wind Waker has more but only slightly), but an art style that pops and an empty, pretty blue sea is enough to get my nostalgia gears cranking. And having now played Solo, I can conclude it does at least have one relevant comparable stat with Wind Waker: amount of selfies you can take with a pig. Which is many.
The plot of Solo in many ways doesn’t exist (even by my, a Nintendo gamers, standards – I’ve been quite happily palmed off with “a turtle stole a princess” for years), and the plot section of a review is where I make the most jokes, so this is fairly troublesome. “Plot” probably isn’t even the right word for what Solo has; “narrative” is likely better – you, are Solo’s plot. Marketed as “a game about love” (which I hope one day in the future will become as popular a genre as First-Person Shooter, just for the sake of balance), the game drives its “story” (I’m so sick of looking at quotation marks) by asking the player deep, meaningful questions about love and their experiences with it, which isn’t nearly as uncomfortably invasive as it sounds. Future questions are based on your previous responses, delving deeper into your personal psyche and providing the narrative this way. This for the most part achieves its aims; I spent a good long time sat in inner-looking thought in the manner the game seems to desire, though sometimes providing a boolean answer (yes/no to non-nerds) to such deep meaningful questions seems like trying to have your cake and eat it too. Summing up complex feelings in a word would be like me ending this review super early – you can infer the rest but you shouldn’t have to.
What isn’t underdone is the world all this navel-gazing takes place in – and it’s actually cleverer than at it seems at first glance (unless what I’m about to say is obvious to you, in which case keep it to yourself, no-one likes a smartass). Solo takes many cues from common meditation practices to build its world, and every element is designed to create a serene, relaxing environment. Both the sea and sky are a calm, pastel blue, frequently associated with yoga for its tranquil effect (though I can’t ever unsee Wii Fit Trainer’s steely, unflinching glare so this effect is a little lost on me). The music is light and minimalist and almost always accompanied by the gentle crashing of waves, another meditation mainstay. Furthermore, Solo encourages you to take it slow, take in your surroundings and interact with the environment; the pettable and, as previously mentioned, selfie-takable pigs, the way creatures react to you playing your guitar (which is adorable to the point of making Hello Kitty look like Wolfenstein by comparison), the way you can just, sit, and be. Being is one of my favourite things.The visuals are quirky and sweet and just a really nice time to look at, and the stylised shapes that make up the architecture and even the trees keep your attention but are also really easy on the eyes. It’s all just genuinely wonderfully serene, and I appreciate that while a lighthouse asks me things like if I love my family or my partner more.
Did I mention there’s a puzzle game in this puzzle game? Normally I would consider the gameplay and the narrative of a game being disconnected a bad thing, but given just how introspective the introspective part of Solo can get, it’s nice to take a step back and mess around with some silly block puzzles. The mechanic itself is about as simple as it gets; get from point A to point B, but you’re given a good variety of blocks to mess around with and no focused directive on how to use them, so you’re free to keep it basic or get as creative as you please. So in many ways the freeform design of the “puzzle-solving” does tie in to Solo’s central themes. The controls for manipulating said blocks can be a touch wonky at times, but never to the point of being a deal-breaker; this also seems like a good time to mention that you may want to tweak your graphics settings before you set off. This may just be me being a complete PC muggle, but for me Solo seems to default to max graphics settings, which made my laptop that can happily run Overwatch chug like a frat boy. Again, an easy fix, but you’ve been warned.
It’s hard to give a game like Solo a definitive score; sure, I can critique things like the presentation (which is masterful) and the gameplay (which is pretty good but I wouldn’t say masterful), but what you actually get out of the game is entirely up to you. How willing are you to be honest with yourself about your feelings? Are you willing or even capable to take it completely slow and soak in an atmosphere, to relax and enjoy being alone with yourself? How patronised do you feel being asked rhetorical questions by some internet guy you’ve never met? Is it more or less patronised than being asked similar questions by a lighthouse? Answers on a postcard, please.