Sayonara Wild Hearts is a game I somehow did not know existed until it was already out on sale, and it’s 100% my jam. I actively resent the universe for not bringing me and this game together sooner. Seriously, with all the information Google and its ad services have collected about me over the years, how did they not use those targeted ad powers to point me to this work of art. This is a serious game of the year contender for me. Damn, I love this game.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a music rhythm game where every track is a different sub-genre of femme focused pop music. From bubblegum aspirational romance ballads to more dramatic and slow percussion based tracks, players move left and right, as well as other actions like jumping over projectiles, all in time with the beat, trying to collect gems in the non stop scrolling levels for points, and trying to avoid head on collisions which will break the flow of your run. You’re basically getting to play an active roll in a well made pop album, with your actions paced incredibly well to the music, which in turn is matches well to the emotional beats of the story. This is an exercise in interacting with music and visuals, and it undeniably succeeds at that.
The game is described by its developers as an interactive pop album, and that feels a pretty apt description for what it delivers. The game lasts between 60-90 minutes for a first straightforward playthrough of its levels, depending on how well you avoid crashing and repeating content, but the real joy is in returning to these levels time and time again to really soak them in after the main adventure. High score chasing in the post game encourages sticking with individual tracks outside of their place in the full album, and that’s where a lot of the game’s magic lies.
Collisions with obstacles in levels are minimally penalized, with each track based level featuring frequent checkpointing. If you crash into something, you respawn back a few seconds, and have to try again. You don’t lose any points you had at that checkpoint, you don’t have a set number of lives, the only real negative is that the song repeats slightly as you replay part of the level. It’s a pretty well balanced punishment for failure, with reloading checkpoints near instant, little of each level needing replaying, and a full uninterrupted hearing of tracks enough incentive to improve your performance. It means you can afford to take risk going for extra bonus points,practicing levels just as easily as you can take the simple route and enjoy the track uninterrupted.
Now, I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot of Sayonara Wild Hearts, as it’s only an hour or so long to experience, but I want to say outright that the game is explicitly queer, and in the sweetest of ways. The final level includes a kissing different lesbian archetypes montage, and it’s adorable. So often queer narratives focus on adversity and strife on their journeys, but this game just revels in femme queer romance from start to finish. Considering also how rare it is for mainstream pop music to venture into femme queer themes, it’s a delight to have an album telling that story be so interactive and engaging. Also, Queen Latifah does an amazing job of shepherding our protagonist on her hero’s journey, as well as offering the perfect energy for her personal journey too.
To truly understand what makes Sayonara Wildhearts so stunning, it’s perhaps best you go and watch some footage of the game. Its amazingly smooth balancing of music genres, art style, animations, gameplay, color palette, and gameplay concepts is really unmatched. I would personally put it up there with Wind Waker’s music tied to sword strikes, or Tetris Effect played in VR, in terms of the sheer skill with which it mixes interactivity, music, and visuals. Seriously, it’s a beautiful neon work of msucial empassioned heart warming art, and exactly what I needed it to be.
At only an hour to play through for the first time, I promise you Sayonara Wild Hearts is worth your time to check out. It’s easily one of my favourite video games I’ve played this year, and one I can really see myself returning to in the years to come. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Watch some footage, then just go buy it already. It’s seriously amazing.