Sayonara Wild Hearts, the latest from the visionaries behind Year Walk, is easily a contender for the best indie game of 2019. What the small development team from Sweden achieved with Sayonara Wild Hearts is honestly, quite remarkable. Advertised as an interactive pop album, Sayonara Wild Hearts sure looks and sounds great but beyond the breathtaking visuals and catchy music, the game is wildly addictive thanks to its everchanging landscapes and simple controls.
I went in expecting a simple rhythm action game but what I didn’t expect is how Sayonara Wild Hearts effortlessly shifts between various genres. At times, Sayonara Wild Hearts unfolds as a shooter, a platformer or a racing game— one minute you’re cruising on a motorcycle through a futuristic neon-lit city, the next you’re battling a mechanical wolf or riding on a deer through a mystical forest at high speeds. Other times, Sayonara Wild Hearts will seem like a modern remastering of Yu Suzuki’s Out Run and other times you’ll find yourself locked in a fixed shooter reminiscent of Namco’s Galaga. To play it feels like the developers took aspects of their favourite arcade games from the 80s and 90s and crammed in as many ideas as they possibly could without ever making the experience seem drawn-out or overwhelming. The end result is a simple sci-fi thrill ride, in terms of action, visuals, and unpretentious fun. It’s a musical arcade experience that combines music and aesthetic to such dizzying effect – and I just can’t get enough!
What’s most surprising about the game is how the developers managed to insert a message of positivity and hope. In Sayonara Wild Hearts, you play as The Fool, a young woman whose heart has just been broken and is searching for some form of happiness. Her heartbreak somehow puts the universe’s balance in peril, prompting her to be abruptly transported from her bedroom into an alternate universe by a crystalline butterfly (a symbol of metamorphosis) which transforms into a tarot card. According to the voiceover performed by American rapper, singer, songwriter, and actress, Queen Latifah (yes, that Queen Latifah), The Fool must chase down the tarot card through a dangerous obstacle-laden wasteland while collecting hearts and crystals in order to restore balance to the universe.
For better or worse, Sayonara Wild Hearts is designed to be both a console and mobile game. The controls are simple enough to play on the go and never require more than basic movement and the tapping of a single button; that said, the best way to play Sayonara Wild Hearts is on a big screen with a killer sound system. This is, after all, an interactive pop album and the better the sound quality, the more you’ll find yourself engulfed in the experience. As far as the visuals go, Sayonara Wild Hearts is one of the most gorgeous games of 2019. The animations are smooth despite constantly shifting between two dimensions and three dimensions in some truly impressive ways — and as mentioned above, there are times when the game breaks away from the endless runner format, including my favourite stage which sees The Fool take control of an 8-bit spacecraft and maneuver around a giant man wearing a VR headset while hovering in space. Another stage features a particularly clever section in which you have to hit pinball-style bumpers before making sharp turns on a serpentine-like track. And no matter the level, The Fool is constantly leaping over obstacles, dodging enemies, collecting heart pieces and doing everything in her power to stay alive, all while racing at speeds faster than the 200cc mode in Mario Kart 8.
No matter how great the visuals and controls are, Sayonara Wild Hearts would be a lesser game without the spectacular music, composed by award-winning sound designers Daniel Olsén and Jonathan Eng, with vocals from singer-songwriter Linnea Olsson. The bubbly indie-pop tracks which blend the atmospheric tones of bands like CHVRCHES and MGMT heighten the overall feeling of playing each stage. Like so many musical gaming experiences before it, Sayonara Wild Hearts features a soundtrack that is so incredibly catchy, you’ll want to download it so you can listen to the music when not playing the game.
The only downside to Sayonara Wild Hearts is that the game is quite short and by that, I don’t mean the length of each level but rather the number of levels you can play. There are twenty-three levels and each level has different rankings and a variety of puzzles to be solved by completing different challenges. At the end of every level, Queen Latifa’s vocals announce the rank you attained, based on your accumulated score. I finished the game in less than 90 minutes and while it certainly does offer a ton of replayability, I couldn’t help but wish there were just a few more stages. Sayonara Wild Hearts is also quite easy to the point that when you do crash, the game instantly rewinds back a few seconds awarding you another chance to hopefully succeed. Sure, it takes a bit more effort to attain a gold rank in each stage, but overall, Sayonara Wild Hearts could be fully completed by even the most passive gamer.
To say that Sayonara Wild Hearts is not for everyone is trivial. Obviously if someone is not a fan of rhythm games they may not enjoy Sayonara Wild Hearts much the same as someone who isn’t a fan of shooters won’t enjoy Splatoon – but for what it is, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a visionary feast for the eyes with an electric score that’s pitch-perfect for the environment. All action and escapist fun, the glorious-looking, totally enjoyable Sayonara Wild Hearts represents a new height in rhythm games thanks to its exuberance. It really is something that needs to be experienced in order to fully understand the effect it has had on its fan base. All in all, this is a game that excels in instilling a fleeting sense of bliss and a game that begs to be played over and over again.