[Review] Sayonara Wild Hearts – Nintendo Switch

Written by Richard Strachan
  • Developer: Simogo
  • Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
  • Release Date: 19/09/2019
  • Price: £10.99 / $12.99
  • Review code provided by Annapurna Interactive

Intro

Sayonara Wild Hearts is billed as a game about heartbreak. This is a bit of a departure from your usual hero tales or shooty-bang stories found in most other games. If that wasn’t enough of a departure from the norm, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a story about heartbreak played through the medium of a psychedelic auto-runner structured like a Guitar Hero game. It goes without saying, that this is something a bit different!

What’s in a heartbreak?

The game opens with the protagonist, who seems to be a close relative of the female Wii Fit trainer, lounging in her flat. A voice over tells of three divine arcana which watch over the universe before the harmony is upset by some evil arcanum. A series of tarot cards fly through space and things get a bit confusing! A beautiful version of Clair De Lune fades in as a fairy flies into the room, transporting you to a twisting, undulating highway in the stars for a rollercoaster ride on a skateboard (really).

I love games, films and books where the meaning of things isn’t quite clear, but I found a lot of Sayonara Wild Hearts’ story went right over my head. Thankfully the game itself looks, plays and sounds so beautifully that this didn’t matter one bit!

At the start of the game you control your character as she rides along a floating highway in the stars on a skateboard. The game controls simply with the analogue stick controlling your movement and one button used for context sensitive actions. This streamlined setup ensures you can focus on the flow of gameplay without getting tripped up with complex controls. As you travel through each level you come across a series of hearts, a bit like note tracks in a Guitar Hero game, or even like the rings in some of the 3D Sonic games.

The gameplay centres around surviving any obstacles the game presents whilst trying to earn as high a score as possible by collecting the hearts and other collectibles scattered throughout tracks. The game includes a hidden multiplier which increases every time you collect an item without dying. High scores revolve around trying to string together as high a multiplier, balancing risk and reward. At the end of a level you receive a ranking of Gold, Silver or Bronze.

Take me to CHVRCH

The game progresses through 20 levels with the core gameplay mechanic evolving as you go. You move from a skateboard to a motorbike and on to even wilder modes of traversal. A big part of the enjoyment of the game is seeing the next unique scenario and seeing how it changes up the gameplay. The mechanics evolve whilst still maintaining the core gameplay loop of collecting hearts and aiming for a high score. Some levels also include short combat sections which are played like a very basic rhythm game, with the player required to time button presses with the onscreen action.

The eShop listing describes Sayonara Wild Hearts as “A pop album video game”. Each of the levels are fairly brief, timed perfectly to match the bespoke soundtrack. The game clearly places the music front and centre, but uses a pop soundtrack written by the team rather than using licensed tracks. The music is absolutely brilliant and stands on its own! I have found myself listening to it on Spotify in my downtime. The tracks range from ambient electronic pieces to CHVRCHES-esque electro-pop. Even if you don’t play the game, give the soundtrack a listen and you won’t be disappointed!

The music includes some short tracks which serve as interludes. These sound great when listening to the soundtrack in isolation, but serve to really break up the gameplay when you encounter them in the game. At the end of each level you are returned to the menu to choose the next level. Some of the interludes are so short that they can be a bit jarring when you are suddenly returned to the menu.

The game gets around this by including an unlockable album mode, which allows you to play through all the content in one unbroken run, but I couldn’t help but feel that should have been the default option.

I heart you!

Sayonara Wild Hearts is fairly light on content, but the journey it takes you on is magical. The high score mechanic allows for players to chase high scores if they are so inclined, but I didn’t feel the gameplay itself was so engrossing as to encourage me to retry levels multiple times to get a better score.

The game includes what it calls “Zodiac Riddles”, which are vaguely worded challenges to be completed on any given level. These amount to a puzzle challenge mode, where the player must figure out what level the riddle relates to and what actions the riddle is describing. The difficulty with these is that you are never completely clear what is expected of you, but once you figure the riddle out you then need to carry out some challenging actions to establish if you even had the correct solution.

This perhaps sounds a bit negative, but overall I loved my run through Sayonara Wild Hearts. I think the game works best as something you blast through in one go. In that sense it reminded me of Journey, which I also played through in one session the first time I played it. In both cases, the games can never quite match that first perfect playthrough, but that’s ok.

Final thoughts

Sayonara Wild Hearts offers a visually striking journey through a magical metaphorical world with a banging pop soundtrack. The inventiveness of the evolving gameplay mechanics will keep you engaged until the end and reminded me of the many ways Nintendo introduce new elements as you progress through a Mario game, whilst still focusing on a core gameplay loop.

Everyone should definitely have at least one run through the game, even if just to experience the magical synergy of the visuals and soundtrack. The game is very forgiving in terms of difficulty and a first run can be completed in an hour or two. Most people would happily spend £10.99 on an album, but I thoroughly recommend you add this “Pop album videogame” to your collection!

Pros

  • An amazing soundtrack
  • Constantly evolving mechanics
  • Mind bending visuals

Cons

  • Some short tracks break up the flow
  • Very light on content

Verdict
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a unique experience that everyone should play through. The soundtrack can stand on its own, but also ends up being the glue that ties the whole experience together to offer something special!

4.5/5

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