Solas and the White Winter is an intriguing game with a laser focus on minimalism. It is a puzzle focused adventure game developed by Savepoint Studios. The game initially caught my eye with its appealing arctic environments.
The game has you playing as a young girl named Solas. She's all alone in a cabin surrounded in snow. The story is presented with little more than bland slideshows. There are no words spoken in a very minimalist manner. However, it's bordering on being far too minimalist for its own good. One can interpret all they want from these pictures, but it isn't clear why these events are taking place.
Mechanically, Solas and the White Winter is set up with puzzle solving in mind. The player has to solve all four initial dungeons in order to reach the final dungeon. These dungeons have you solving simple puzzles such as activating switches in the correct order, lining up dots using switches, pushing slippery ice blocks in their designated locations, and so on. Luckily, the dungeons are well-designed and at times, somewhat challenging. That being the case, interactions with the puzzles were clunky in a way that made simple interactions a hassle to execute.
For example, rotating a pipe would require the player to stand on a tile, while not clearly showing which tile would rotate each pipe. This was more tedious than it was challenging. Unintuitive design was consistent throughout all the dungeon puzzles. Admittedly, this example was the worst offender as the rest of them were issues linked with the way the game executed its point and click style interaction.
Every dungeon had its own unique mechanic with the exception being the final dungeon, which was more like a medley of the previous dungeons. Each mechanic set the player up with new ways of thinking. However, the puzzles were very much on the simple side. The puzzle I struggled with the most wasn’t due to puzzle complexity, but the lack of readability on a part of it. Regardless, the game does a good job at mixing up the experience from puzzle to puzzle and it even has the classic ice block puzzle from Pokémon (admittedly, Pokémon did it way more organically and interestingly back in the year 2000.)
Even reaching the dungeons had some degree of puzzling challenge. However, traveling in the overworld felt tedious as the various environmental hazards slowed me down more than I would've wanted. These hazards padded out the traveling experience as it would require me to carefully traverse through the snowy environments. It added a sense of danger to the harsh setting, but the one hit deaths and shallow mechanics resulted in a shallow expression of survival in the cold. The exception to the rule in this case would be the effective use of dying from the cold, where Solas would die if she didn’t find a place to light up a bonfire in time. Unfortunately, even this mechanic was hindered by the visuals coupled with the low draw distance, which made it hard to tell where to go next as well as where the next bonfire location was.
Solas and the White Winter’s presentation left a lot to be desired. The music provides a contemplative feeling through its wind and string instruments. However, there aren’t many audio tracks, so I ran into a lot of repetition throughout my playthrough. This hampered my experience, especially during the overworld, where the slow movement coupled with the sudden deaths and looping music really got on my nerves.
Initially, the visuals were striking with its cel shading and snowy setting. However, the nice visuals came at the cost of readability. I had trouble understanding exactly what I was looking at inside a cave. The game had trouble presenting depth due to the mediocre shading. It was very much a visual mess.
Another issue I had was the game’s lack of any loading screen. This often made me question whether or not the game had crashed or not during level transitions. I am all for minimalism as long as it does not hinder the experience. Here, the lack of information hurt the experience more than it helped. This minimalist approach applies even to the game’s narrative.
As a fan of Team ICO and their expertly applied minimalism, I was eager to see how Savepoint Studios employed their minimalism within the story. Early on, I noticed similarities to Shadow of the Colossus through the general structure of the game as Solas travels to specific objectives and then transports back to the starting area. In addition to that, the overworld is mostly empty and large when considering how slowly Solas runs. The story unraveled as the player progressed through each dungeon, though it still wasn’t particularly clear to me exactly what was happening. The narrative just has too little information on display, and it ended way too abruptly.
Solas and the White Winter has quite a bit going for it, but its flaws unfortunately hold the experience back. There’s a real lack of finality as a result of the very limited narrative details and progression. The minimalism went too far and left too many things open to interpretation. On paper, the game’s concepts are superb, but in execution, the lack of design finesse and polish left the experience feeling amateurish. The game manages to provide an adequate experience, but it needed more development time to truly stand out.