Islands of Insight review: A whimsical journey of jumping on ruins and playing with blocks

Can an open world, shared-world puzzle game be 'cozy'? Behavior Interactive's latest release offers an answer.


Behavior Interactive has had some intriguing output in recent years. Dead by Daylight is clearly the flagship moneymaker, but we’re seeing smaller, experimental titles like Meet Your Maker and now Islands of Insight. This is a puzzle game, but one with a structure and goal we haven’t really seen before. Imagine a game like Talos Principle, but without the sort of guided, story-driven, narrative guardrails driving you through. Instead, you’re exploring a massive sandbox full of smaller puzzles without any of the pressure or momentum of a “normal” video game.

It’s almost like a word search or sudoku book you can pick up at a grocery store. The pages are full of different puzzles, and you have a level of freedom to approach that’s almost unconducive to solving anything. You can start on any page you want, spend any time you want, swap to a different page, flip back and forth, so on and so forth. That’s kind of the vibe Islands of Insight appears to be chasing. Marketing purports over 10,000 puzzles, and there are barely any guideposts or roadblocks in the way. You can just run around and pick what you want to do.

The vibes are... kinda vague

A view over the player avatar's shoulder in islands of insight
Source: Behavior Interactive

It makes sense that Behavior and developer Lunarch Studios are pursuing the “cozy” label. They want you to hop into the game, explore the big map and pick and choose what puzzles you want to try. There are several categories, and moving forward to expand the map only requires a small minimum of completion. Puzzles can range from finding hidden objects, manipulating colored blocks on a grid to complete a pattern or make a path based on restrictions, or even a fractal style that has you moving an orb around until the lights and colors match the given example. And it’s hard to overstate the sheer volume at play. Perch on top of a hill and look around, and you’ll see dozens of interactive objects in your field of view.

Islands of Insight is a find your own fun experience in that way. With only a vague story setting up the premise and very few progress barriers, you’re largely left to your own devices in terms of how to seek out and solve puzzles. Will you try to hit everything or be more selective? Either choice and everything in-between are meant to be viable here. The whole experience can be overwhelming at first, especially with a UI and map aesthetic that can put an Assassin’s Creed game to shame with visual noise. That doesn’t sound cozy now, does it?

Too much information

The map screen in islands of insight
Source: Islands of Insight

And that’s before you take into account the skill trees and unlockables. As you complete puzzles you get points you can spend on a branching path, providing things like new movement options or special techniques you can use to alter your options in more complex puzzles. There’s also a battle pass-like bar that fills to unlock various cosmetic goodies for your avatar. Again, the idea is “do what you feel like”, but that’s easy to say when you’re the one dumping the whole toybox out in front of someone.

Multiplayer is another confusing element Islands of Insight plays with. The game is touted as a “shared-world” puzzle game. What that means is when you spawn in, other players can be seen peppered throughout the map. During my review period I’d only see the occasional colleague or Behavior staff poking around, but when the Steam Next Fest demo launched there was a bit more activity. Before talking about the intent or plan with multiplayer, going in reverse and looking at how it worked out in practice will clarify the problem. Many players in the discussions on Steam mostly seemed confused about multiplayer, complaining about lag, rubberbanding, and awkward competition over puzzles. Meanwhile on the other side, it’s hard to find not just positives, but folks understanding the purpose of multiplayer to begin with. And I can’t say I disagree.

Odds and ends

One example of a puzzle style in Islands of Insight
Source: Behavior Interactive

Perhaps it’s meant to enhance the vibe, with a population of other players just hanging out and solving puzzles together, separately. Sure, you can see little notifications popping up to tell everyone when someone solves a puzzle. But considering the sheer volume of puzzles and how some of them are as simple as “congrats for tripping over this invisible block”, a lot of that stuff feels like more noise. The cynical players are already accusing this stuff as being smokescreen DRM, which is absurd, but the confusion is understandable at least. Still, a “cozy” puzzle adventure game about taking things at your own pace requiring an internet connection to function is a little odd. Especially when the supposed benefits are so unclear.

I definitely had fun solving a bunch of puzzles, especially ones that involved finding the right visual path through a group of rings or playing a sort of reverse Minesweeper with black and white squares. Others, like hidden objects or hunting for nodes inside a boundary, were annoying but I never felt forced to try them. There’s a lot to like about that idea of zero pressure puzzle-solving. But everything else, like leaping, floating, and gliding around the open world, filling in the skill tree, or deciphering the map and other UI elements, bogged me down. Islands of Insight is a shot at blending together ambitious scale with cozy gaming, and has to try harder than it should to not collapse under its own weight.

Islands of Insight is available on February 13, 2024 for the PC. A code was provided by the publisher for review.

Contributing Editor

Lucas plays a lot of videogames. Sometimes he enjoys one. His favorites include Dragon Quest, SaGa, and Mystery Dungeon. He's far too rattled with ADHD to care about world-building lore but will get lost for days in essays about themes and characters. Holds a journalism degree, which makes conversations about Oxford Commas awkward to say the least. Not a trophy hunter but platinumed Sifu out of sheer spite and got 100 percent in Rondo of Blood because it rules. You can find him on Twitter @HokutoNoLucas being curmudgeonly about Square Enix discourse and occasionally saying positive things about Konami.

Review for
Islands of Insight
  • Engaging puzzles with no pressure to solve them quickly or in order
  • Rewards short gameplay bursts and longer sessions
  • Weird multiplayer that doesn't add much to the experience
  • Vague and fumbly storytelling
  • Inelegant UI contradicts low-pressure intent
  • Some "puzzles" don't feel like puzzles (chase the ball, uncover hidden objects, etc.)
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