Annapurna Interactive’s 2017 entrance into the video game publishing scene made a statement about the kind of games it was interested in. What Remains of Edith Finch and Gorogoa, both published by Annapurna that year, were inventive titles that delivered creative visuals and unique gameplay. With original games like Florence, Telling Lies, Donut County, and Outer Wilds and ports of games like Journey and Flower, Annapurna has put a clear focus on arthouse experiences. SAYONARA WILD HEARTS is yet another of these, and like so many of Annapurna’s other projects, it’s a damn good one.
Developed by Simogo, creators of mobile games DEVICE 6 and Year Walk, Sayonara Wild Hearts is, as its developers describe it, a playable pop album. Everything about Sayonara Wild Hearts revolves around this fact. That means it’s rather simple and very short — you’ll most likely complete your first playthrough in an hour or less — but these aspects work to Sayonara Wild Hearts’ advantage. It’s a cathartic experience that puts few barriers between the player and its dreamy visuals and amazing original soundtrack.
Sayonara Wild Hearts Review | Top 20 radio
Sayonara Wild Hearts is, first and foremost, about its music. The game is divided into 23 levels, each the length of the song they’re paired with. These are separated into sections by five instrumental, electronic intermissions (still playable, of course) called “Heartbreak I-V.” Each section follows a consistent visual and tonal theme. The first, for example, is a bubbly motorcycle ride through the narrow streets of a pink city, while the second is a darker chase through a robot wolf-infested forest.
Sayonara Wild Hearts succeeds as the playable pop album it sets out to be, full of unique compositions that grab the best parts of the genre. It’s got some of the electronic synths of Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack, the upbeat traditional pop of Carly Rae Jepsen, the soothing electro house of Porter Robinson, and more — all of which coalesce into an album with different ways of expressing the same, ethereal, catchy tone. Daniel Olsén and Jonathan Eng did a fantastic job with music production and writing, and Linnea Olsson’s vocals are great for the most part. Standout songs include the head-bopping “Inside” and “Mine” and were used in the game’s trailers for good reason. How you feel about the music will largely come down to taste, but Sayonara Wild Hearts has a good amount of variety in tone and pace of its songs. If you’re into pop or electronic at all, there will probably be something here you’ll enjoy.
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As much as this phrase gets thrown around about other titles, Sayonara Wild Hearts is indeed a game that demands to be played with headphones, as its visuals and gameplay serve as complements to its musical focal point. But that doesn’t mean Sayonara Wild Hearts’ gameplay is lackluster. In fact, that’s far from the case.
Each section of the game, divided by those “Heartbreak” intermissions, sends you racing after different gangs of Sailor Moon-esque bikers. Throughout Sayonara Wild Hearts, you’ll ride floating playing cards, motorcycles, skateboards, and other vehicles down on-rails tracks, using the joystick to avoid obstacles and collect score-boosting items scattered around the rail-like levels. The only other action you’ll have to perform is the execution of timed button prompts, which perform contextual actions like jumping over barriers or slashing with a sword.
Controls can feel a little floaty at times, meaning you may find yourself overcorrecting or not putting enough oomph into your efforts to avoid a hazard. It’s not difficult to get used to, though, and its slightly weighty feel seems to be by design, given your character’s deliberate animations. Even if you find yourself having trouble, messing up won’t harm your flow or make you fail the level like it would in a rhythm game like Rock Band. Instead, if you run into an obstacle, Sayonara’s generous checkpoint system will instantly reset to where you were just seconds before so you can try again. Missing a button prompt, meanwhile, will put the game into slow motion, allowing you to easily fix your mistake. The only consequence for these screw-ups are a lower score and a brief interruption of the music, which are undeniably penalties but ones that thankfully don’t tamper with the game’s all-important flow.
Sayonara Wild Hearts uses its basic control scheme to its advantage by bending it in multiple ways in order to keep things interesting. You’ll control different vehicles, use different weapons and abilities, and play the game from different camera perspectives. There are some particularly awesome gameplay shake-ups after “Heartbreak IV” better left unspoiled. The gameplay elements are not deep, per se, but they never stick around for long enough to become stale, especially considering it is only about 45 minutes long.
The game’s short length and constantly refreshed gameplay mean it perfectly fits its arcade trappings. Players can earn Gold, Silver, or Bronze ranks for each level depending on their scores. There’s only one unlockable earned for getting Gold on every song, so the main reason to chase Gold is the satisfaction of playing through each song uninterrupted. Sayonara would fit perfectly in a headphone jack-equipped, stand-up arcade cabinet (in fact, someone please make that) or on mobile devices and the Switch, which suit the bite-sized portions it’s carved into. Beating the game once unlocks the Album Arcade mode, which seamlessly transitions from level to level without booting you out to the menu. This makes for a smoother experience than the first playthough, both because of the lack of game-prompted interruptions and because you’ll already know how to avoid some of the more unexpected obstacles. It begs to be replayed over and over in relatively quick sessions, allowing players to enjoy its music and chase high scores.
Sayonara Wild Hearts Review | Video game candy
Sayonara Wild Hearts is like Pop Rocks: The Game. It’s a delicious and surprising visual and audio journey that constantly changes rhythms and mechanics before disappearing rather quickly in a glamorous, flavor-filled explosion. The game’s wonderful music, art style, and gameplay are all beautiful throughout but culminate in its excellent final level, which highlights elements from the rest of the game in addition to telling a touching story about self-love. Sayonara Wild Hearts is a fleeting game, yet, like the best records, is worth flipping over, restarting, and putting on repeat once it wraps up its last track.