Many artists take inspiration from their life experiences. Team Gotham is no different in this regard. Per their own admission, the themes explored in Solo were inspired by the failed romantic relationship of a Team Gotham employee. In this way, Solo is a crowd-funded breakup mix tape. It works for Taylor Swift, and it seems to have worked for Team Gotham as well.
Spiritual Content: Solo contains nuanced spiritual themes. The game presents love as a transcendental force. The Bible has much to say about love and it would affirm Team Gotham’s assertion about love’s transcendence. However, love is not presented as a force out in the aether. Instead, the Bible grounds love in the nature of the God who is love.
Additionally, Solo uses the term “love” exclusively to refer to romantic relationships. Other types of relationships are mentioned in the game but are often contrasted with and pitted against romantic ones. Also, I found the narrative to be subtly condescending towards those who choose celibacy. Team Gotham seems to have the unstated assumption that human flourishing requires one to be in the context of a romantic relationship. However, this assumption would lead to the conclusion that Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and countless others who have lived their lives reflecting God’s love but were not in romantic relationships, did not flourish in this life.
Sexual themes: The player chooses their gender at the beginning of the game. This choice includes a non-binary option. The game asks for the player’s sexual preference which includes heterosexual, homosexual, non-binary, and pansexual options. However, these options have little effect on the game and the player can change them at any time.
Positive themes: The game invites the player to explore the meaning, purpose, and origin of romantic love. It is often helpful to question the unstated assumptions behind our views to come to understand them in a richer way.
If The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Minecraft had a love child who was a puzzle-loving pacifist, I am certain it would look something like Solo. Make no mistake: this comparison is meant as a compliment. Solo is a beautiful game that is a wonder to behold. I often found myself taking the time to enjoy the visuals. The juxtaposition of the bright colors with the atmospheric music and weighty themes make Solo a unique gaming experience.
Solo‘s music is superb and pairs nicely with the overall feel of the game. The score creates a melancholy atmosphere which accents the moments of genuine reflection provoked by game. In addition to the music, the player has a guitar available to them and can strum 4 different chords and combine them into small melodies. Some of these combinations affect the game’s visuals by controlling the weather or adding a black-and-white filter.
The game design is decent and though its progression is linear, that simplicity works well with its general aesthetic. In order to progress, the player’s must activate out of reach elements in each island by solving a block puzzle. The blocks act as stepping-stones and bridges which allow the player to reach their desired destination. These puzzles are engaging and generally not too hard. Though a few times, I had to take a short break and look at the challenges with fresh eyes.
Each new section of the game introduces a new type of block and new ways to tackle the challenges. Additionally, later sections of the game introduce a new type of puzzle which involves reproducing a pattern by positioning the blocks in front of a light source to create the corresponding shadows. Solo also has optional puzzles which involve either guiding a stream of water or creating a bridge to reunite two of the game’s inhabitants.
The game’s narrative is minimalist and invites the player to contemplate the meaning of romantic love and what role romantic relationships play in their life. Solo takes the player on this journey of self-discovery by presenting a question after solving the block puzzle on each island. The player selects a response from among three options, but there is no right choice. Each choice has a subsequent response which invites the player to further reflect on the question.
Unfortunately, Solo is not without its flaws. First, the game’s controls need more polish. The controls while operating the block puzzles are similar to those in sandbox games. However, the camera locks in place when the player is attempting to position a block and it is difficult to place the pieces in the desired spot. Additionally, the default control scheme while using a controller is counter-intuitive and overly sensitive. This often caused me to spend more time fighting the controls than solving the puzzles.
Second, the lack of variety in the puzzles diminishes the experience towards the end of the game. Although the puzzles are fun, they become repetitive as the game progresses. The novelty of the new block types introduced throughout the game wears thin pretty quickly. This repetitiveness is particularly evident during a second playthrough. The combination of the lack of variety and difficult controls makes it difficult to enjoy replaying the game to experience the other narrative options.
Third, the game’s narrative is thought-provoking, but that doesn’t mean it is always profound. Several times, Solo presented a complex question but provided responses that were lacking in nuance. This forced me to choose an option for the sake of continuing the story and not because it was an option I wanted to choose. Although Team Gotham touted Solo as an introspective experience, this lack of nuance breaks the game’s immersion.
This lack of depth is especially clear if the player values other relationships higher than romantic ones. This narrative path betrays the unexamined western assumptions regarding romantic love and other kinds of interpersonal connections. Similarly, parts of the narrative pit reason against emotions. The naiveté displayed throughout the game about love is at times off-putting.
Overall, Solo is beautiful and it is worth spending the time to explore the compelling world crafted by Team Gotham. The visuals and music alone are worth the price of admission. The game’s missteps are a bit of a nuisance, but they are forgivable when considering the entire package.
Review code generously provided by Stride PR
The Bottom Line
Solo is not only a work of art but a labor of love. Team Gotham certainly poured out their hearts into this game, and it shows. The visuals are amazing and the music hits all the right notes (pun intended). The game invites the player to reflect on their beliefs on the nature and importance of romantic love. Unfortunately, the game is not flawless, with missteps in the controls and in some heavy-handed philosophical conclusions. Nevertheless, Solo is an overall great gaming experience.