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Islands of Insight has a great gauntlet of logic puzzles that overshadows its beautiful but aimless world

As cozy online games continue to prove that not all MMOs need to be RPGs, I’m always excited to dip into a new world. Islands of Insight is the latest, a “shared-world puzzle game” of chill challenges. After a few hours with it though, I don’t think the concept gels. Islands of Insight has constructed what already feels like a great gauntlet of puzzles, it just doesn’t seem to have needed the online open world, gorgeous though it may be.

Islands of Insight boasts over 10,000 puzzles and immediately introduces me to a handful of them after I’m finished designing a character with just the right shade of glistening blue glow to my skin. In the tutorial area I find logic puzzles where I need to draw patterns of black and white squares in a grid, perspective puzzles where I maintain line of sight with several pillars all crammed onto a platform, and hidden object puzzles where I need to find and click on several golden rings within a given area.

It lacks some intrinsic motivation off the bat though. I wind up floundering initially without any particular goal as I’m dropped into a world where individual puzzles seem just strewn about my path. Islands of Insight seems to think that puzzles are compelling purely on the basis that I can’t help tripping over them. I don’t need to explore or uncover anything—there’s no fall damage or inaccessible areas to serve as motivation—so the selection of puzzles feels as if it’s been dumped on the floor in front of me like an upended tub of unsorted Legos. The tutorial does at least present me with a checklist to complete a certain number of each initial puzzle style, so I’m not left entirely to my own devices.

After that, I make a beeline for all the floating cubes that trigger the logic grid puzzles that I was introduced to in the tutorial area. The ramping difficulty in each black and white grid keeps me seeking more and more of them. Eventually they begin asking me to fill bigger, more complex grids without, say, using three of the same color in succession while working around a given set of unchangeable squares. There’s a version with a sort of Minesweeper twist where numbers on certain squares denote the number of contiguous same colors they should have that leave me scratching my head at times.

After that I get willingly stuck in on the match three puzzles, which is about the time I realize it’s a shame that Islands of Insight’s best puzzles so far are the ones that take me away from the lush, gorgeous world and just have me looking at a 2D interface.

The open world perspective puzzles, hidden objects, and time traversals just haven’t grabbed me. I’m more inclined to ignore the translucent shivering rings and gates I’m supposed to walk through just to plant my face back into another match three puzzle. It’s giving me the same kind of guilt as leaving a potential date on read. Sorry, shimmering gates, I’m just not that into you.

The “sparks” currency that I earn for every solution are meant to be the motivation to broaden my puzzling choices. With my sparks, I can buy character perks like a double jump, though later unlocks are more focused on the puzzling itself with hints that highlight parts of a perspective puzzle or benefits like extra sparks for solving something quickly. As I increase my mastery points for each puzzle type, I’ll also level up as a character to net rewards like cosmetics and additional sparks.

All the while there’s a running tally on my screen of puzzles solved by other players because, lest I forget, Islands of Insight is an online game. If I invite another player to my party, we can click to ping objects in the world for one another to help solve some of those hidden objects or perspective puzzles. There’s no text chat though, so most strangers ignore my party invites and sprint past me. I’ve yet to encounter any puzzle type that’s truly collaborative, just open world puzzles we solve separately while maybe pantomiming the solution to one another with a bit of excessive jumping. Oh, and there are emotes, but that seems to be the sum total of sharing the world with other players.

The dungeon-like “enclaves” are the closest that Islands of Insight comes to making the act of traipsing between puzzles feel worthwhile. I hop into a jet stream of air that shoots me off to a smaller secluded island where a tally of puzzle types awaits me. The Chamber of Triunes asks that I solve 15 match three puzzles, three sentinel stone perspective puzzles, and chase down two floating orbs called wandering echoes. That, at least, gives me the concrete goal of locating the given number of puzzles within the floating sandstone ruins. Though for the most part the match three games are just prominently displayed on a wall every several steps.

I love a good puzzle game, be it physics puzzles, logic puzzles, language, perspective, or sequence. Islands of Insight has rather good logic puzzles in particular, but exploring the world isn’t a puzzle at all. I wish it were, so that I had a reason to feel compelled through its physical space. Instead, most of its open world puzzles just feel like they’re underfoot as I meander my way between very pretty 2D screens.

Islands of Insight launched on Steam this week for $30/£25.

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