Playing Solas 128 feels like wandering, blindfolded, through a labyrinthian spaceship, slowly but surely making sense of ever more baffling conundrums. Straightforward puzzles asking you to redirect a neon beam using reflective mirrors soon evolve into devious headscratchers, utilising colour combinations, careful timing, and creative solutions that intersect with different rooms on a vast, interconnected map.
This is an undoubtedly striking experience from the moment you hit play. A thumping synth soundtrack and the encroaching haze of VHS static quickly induces a tetris-like trance, pulling you ever deeper into a mazelike machine. Everything is rendered in stark colours and simple lines, evoking a little of that arcane ASCII magic so present in early roguelikes. With each puzzle solved, it feels like you’re powering up a circuit inside a grand computer. At any moment, you can zoom out and see the entire map, a complex grid of squares reaching out from a centre point. You are free to traverse completed rooms at will, and even tweak previous puzzle solutions, a mechanic which quickly becomes necessary to make progress. It might have been easy to feel disoriented by Solas 128, but in a wonderful touch the crisscrossing beams of light at the centre of the game’s puzzles pulsate to the beat of the music, and lead the way towards progress.
The occasional brain-busting roadblock pulled me out of this otherwise hypnotising game. There are four main branches from the centre of the map, and each path follows a similar structure. A handful of puzzles to teach you new mechanics. A smattering of puzzles to test your understanding. And, finally, a few absolute bastards. Sometimes these last puzzles are ingenious, satisfying challenges. Occasionally, they’re incredibly frustrating, with a few too many moving parts or under-tutorialized mechanics. When things do get confusing, an in-game hint system is on hand to provide a wordless nudge in the right direction by highlighting an area where a mirror should go. Because they provide so little information, you can still feel smart even when you rely on them. On the other hand, I found them pretty useless on some levels, telling what to do without any explanation as to why. The hint system becomes less helpful as puzzles grow larger and more challenging.
Solas 128 takes a similar approach to The Witness when it comes to introducing new ideas and puzzle concepts. There are no text boxes or pop-ups to read through – you learn through escalating complexity and play. Mostly, this is done incredibly well, adding to the sense that you’re decoding an ancient machine. Sometimes, when I’m trying to fumble my way through a level I don’t fully understand, this can be pretty exasperating.
A standout style and wonderfully absorbing soundscape make up for the unfortunate truth; this game makes me feel dumb. Which, let’s be honest, is a me problem. Solas 128 is absolutely stuffed with several hours of top-tier puzzling (bar a few frustrating brain-melters), and at just £11.39 on steam or Itch.io, this is an absolute must for puzzle fans.