Islands of Insight Impressions

This game came completely out of left field for me. I’m told there was a demo during a recent Steam Next Fest, but I didn’t play it. I didn’t even know it existed then.

I heard about it from an episode of the Dropped Frames podcast, and it piqued my interest enough that once home, I jumped into Steam and took a look. But not only didn’t I go ahead with a purchase, I put it from my mind as something ‘not for me’ and then essentially forgot about it.

And that may well have been where the story ended except for an event in a friend’s life that made me think a more quiet, relaxed and peaceful game might just be what the doctor ordered. So I grabbed us both a copy, as Islands of Insight does contain some light (very light) multiplayer elements.

So what is Islands of Insight?

Well… It’s a puzzle game… Of a sort. But unlike something like Talos Principle where the puzzles form the game, Islands of Insight is more like a virtual space that acts as a container for puzzles. My first impression — and what initially put me off — is that I thought that was all there was to it. And puzzles for puzzles’ sake just aren’t my thing. I’m not someone to sit down with a crossword or Sudoku as a general rule.

Which in retrospect is perhaps a little amusing, as perhaps my favourite puzzle type so far are the ‘logic boards’, which exude very strong Sudoku energy.

The above board is an example of a moderate to high-difficulty board. The difficulty rankings go from one to five orbs, then they jump up to stars, and this one is two stars.

The white number squares are fixed in position and were there at the start of the board, the black squares I’ve filled in are my first, fast, pass of what I know ‘must’ be true given the rules of this board and game type.

For example:

  • The ones must be enclosed (horizontally and vertically; diagonals do not form a ‘join’) with black, as the 1 square itself provides the needed value and cannot join to any other white squares.
  • Because on this board there can only be precisely one number per white area, where two numbers are either directly diagonal next to another number or, have only one space between on the horizontal/vertical, those spaces must be black to avoid a join happening.

Once I’d done that, the next rule to become relevant was the one stating that all black cells must connect. This means that you cannot isolate any black cell areas off, which in turn means, the black cells from the duos of 4, 5, 6 and 7’s in the corners where they have a black cell pointing into a corner cell have to be brought out. Which in turn means there is only one possible direction of growth to start the light cells.

Follow that for a while, and you get to a position like this:

I can’t remember now whether by this time I had actively used the remaining rule or not to determine the position of a square — but the remaining rule states that you cannot have a 2×2 cluster of black cells. So if you see a 3 out of 4 cluster of black in a 2×2 area — you know the remaining square must be white. There were a few instances where white cell area growth had two options and this rule eliminated one for me.

While I probably needn’t worry too much about spoiling the full solution — there are over 10,000 puzzles in the game, after all — I still won’t.

The satisfaction of beating your way through a puzzle board like this is fairly awesome, after all.

But this is just one type of puzzle — heck, one sub-type of puzzle even; new mechanics for the logic board are still being introduced.

And then there are the match 3 boards, crystal labyrinth maze things, perspective puzzles, rolling block (another type I quite enjoy), and a whole bunch I haven’t even unlocked yet, let alone unlocked the full rulesets for.

The onboarding process for the puzzles and required concepts is very slick though. To ‘Awaken’ puzzles, you are directed via questline to an Enclave, generally arrived at by being whisked by a jump pad to a floating island separated from the mainland in the process.

These Enclaves guide you through a series of puzzles — sometimes by area layout; and sometimes by a literal chaining of puzzles where they must be done in sequence, indicated by a beam of light connecting them.

Through the course of which, you’ll be introduced to puzzles that teach a given concept, or rule application, and double down on ensuring you’re understanding the content with moments of ‘Insight’ being presented to you after the completion of certain puzzles.

After completion of the mandatory elements of the Enclave, you will have awakened that puzzle type out in the main open-world/sandbox-type area and can add it to your repertoire of available activities.

The enclaves are fairly well fixed puzzles in fixed locations, locations that you can as a result ‘100%’ if so inclined. But the required completion is much lower than this, and even the ‘bonus’ completion won’t quite be all the way there. I found it quite tricksy how this information gets revealed to you as well. Hah.

When you first enter an enclave; you’ll only see the mandatory requirements.

Once you complete those; it’ll show you the bonus completion requirements.

And only if you then also complete that, will it tell you how many remaining puzzles there are in the area. Despite my generally non-completionist stance on games… I’ve been egged on into full completion of more than one enclave already.

Out in the main world, things are a bit different. Puzzles can shift — in certain areas, like the ‘Temple of Infinite Rings’ they may shift right before your eyes, and constantly — but more generally may change on a daily cycle. Some objects and puzzles, such as the monolith pieces are fixed, but otherwise you can get a refreshed set of challenges in an area regularly.

All this and I feel as though have still barely scratched the surface. There is a skill unlock system, you can purchase (through the in-game currency of ‘Sparks’ only!!) additional appearances, including for your wings, or your trail. There is lore to find, slowly unravelling a story of how this place came to be and the people within it — very reminiscent in some ways of Talos Principle 1’s less direct storytelling — and so much more.

In many respects, Islands of Insight is simply the tossing of a bunch of toys out into space and letting you go at it — but they’re good enough toys in a wide enough variety with enough surrounding trappings that my aversion to such an approach has, for now, been overcome.

Naithin

Gamer, reader, writer, husband and father of two boys. Former WoW and Gaming blogger, making a return to the fold to share my love of all things looty.

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