Sayonara Wild Hearts is difficult to explain. It’s described as a “pop album video game” but that’s not something we’ve really had before. I didn’t know what to expect when I scooped it up from the Nintendo Switch e-Shop when it was a new release. I kind of want you to play it without knowing what to expect, because I think either way, you’ll be very pleased.
You can sort of think of Sayonara Wild Hearts as a rhythm game – sort of an on-rails shooter similar to Rez. Each stage is a track from the album, and you play as a heartbroken young woman who is careening forward through a surreal purple world. You guide her, collecting hearts and dodging obstacles and occasionally fighting enemies.
Some stages add additional mechanics. One level will have you racing through a surreal city on a motorcycle, and the next will put you on the back of a wild stag racing through a forest. Stages play out to the track, and if you run into an obstacle, it sets you back a measure or two.
It’s simple and enjoyable. It has a very arcade-like feel to it, racking up your points based on the hearts you collect in each stage.
You might ask yourself how a rhythm game could earn such a high rank for it’s storytelling. This is actually one of Sayonara’s strongest points. I won’t spoil it for you, but let me try to explain what I mean.
First of all, it’s established that this happy young woman had her heart broken, and “her sorrow echoed through space and time.” This is narrated to us by Queen Latifah. We also learn about some divine arcanum and astral highways and… well, our heartbroken heroine is the chosen one to save the world. And thus you are thrown into your adventure on a longboard on a space highway.
As you progress, our heroine starts to realize her power, gaining confidence and determination. Her realization and actions in the third-act are heavy and soaked in morals, and it’s all done while blasting through neon wormholes.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is beautiful to play and watch. It’s very stylistic, with neon scenery strobing past you to the rhythm of the music. Often, the camera work will dart around to convey tension and show off the fun stunts the heroine is doing. It’s a game that makes you feel like a badass, even if you aren’t really doing great. I love sequences like this in other games.
The only gripe I have is that I wish the draw distance was a little further on some of the stages. This was probably an intentional decision, but seeing further ahead would make the world feel a little less confined.
I love this game, and this game is meant to be a pop album. I like the music, though it’s not something that I would have necessarily added to my daily playlists (although I did, after playing the game). It saddens me that I have to honestly deduct a couple of points in audio, simply due to how the music is edited into the game.
Let me explain – the stages are set to music. Every time you play a stage, you begin with the same beat of the song, and end with the same beat. It’s not like finishing a stage will ever end it at a different point in the song. Does this make sense?
Unfortunately, Sayonara WIld Hearts sometimes just fades the song out when you reach the end of a stage. If you were simply listening to the song and not playing the game, you’d wonder why the song ended so abruptly. It’s not terrible, but it does leave you wanting more. Not every stage does this, but there is no reason the stages couldn’t be a little longer to work the way to the end of the song.
Otherwise, the music is great, and often the stages change and react to bridges and choruses in the music. A lot of love, care, and artistry went into this. I just want to squeeze a little bit more out of each track.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is amazingly accessible. Messing up only puts you back a few moments, and the game is incredible fast at getting you there. If you miss a jump or toss yourself off the path, you are back in the action in about a second or two.
Each stage has new mechanics, but the controls are so fluid that you always feel in control. It’s forgiving and encouraging, and never frustrating.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a short, incredibly enjoyable game that is easily finished. Because the game tallies your points based on the hearts you collect, it encourages you to go back and play your favorite levels to beat your score. There are Zodiac riddles to unlock and gold medals to earn.
The game isn’t designed to keep you occupied for hundreds of hours, but one could certainly play through three or four times and find that it never gets boring. I played it twice through on my first playthrough.
Ah, the chill meter. I was wondering when I was going to whip this one out. This is for games that are just so goshdarn relaxing and therapeutic that I knock out one of the other eight ratings and swap it out with this one. Since I think it’s my first time using it, let me tell you a few games that I think deserve the chill-o-meter:
- Breath of the Wild
- Stardew Valley
- Animal Crossing
And obviously Sayonara Wild Hearts. SWH is short, fulfilling, and never stressful. Failure isn’t annoying. Playing the game makes you feel great, even if you aren’t at your best. Have a bad day? Spin this up an hour before bed, with a cold drink or a hot tea. It might even make you cry.
There are rhythm games. There are games that set stages to music (I love them – I’m looking at you, Rayman Legends). There are on-rails shooters that switch the gameplay mechanics every level or so. Sayonara Wild Hearts isn’t original in its parts, but it’s very original in its execution. A short, beautiful story of a heartbroken girl realizing her potential and then making the best of it, set to a fun bubblegum electric pop album set to a purple 80’s-style dystopia. More albums should be released like this.
I want more. I would love a Sonic the Hedgehog game like this – racing the hedgehog around to Crush-40 buttrock, with quicktime actions every few lines. I want other stories to be told with this style. Sayonara Wild Hearts gives me strong feels, and I could only imagine how far the genre could go if more were to experiment with it.
Sayonara Wild Hearts was developed by Simogo.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is also available on the PC, macOS, Playstation 4, iOS, and Xbox One.
Where to Get This Game:
Sayonara Wild Hearts (Switch - 2019)
Game title: Sayonara Wild Hearts
Game description: Sayonara Wild Hearts was released in September 2019 for the Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, iOS, macOS, and on PC in December 2019. The Xbox One version released in February 2020. You can also listen to the soundtrack on Spotify (link below).
- Gameplay - 7.5/107.5/10
- Story - 9/109/10
- Visuals - 8.5/108.5/10
- Audio - 8/108/10
- Accessibility - 10/1010/10
- Challenge - 8/108/10
- Chill - 10/1010/10
- Uniqueness - 10/1010/10
Sayonara Wild Hearts is Lynk Approved
Remember buying an album, popping it into a stereo, and listening to it from end to end?
Now imagine playing a Winamp visualization to your album.
Now imagine that Winamp visualization is so fun and so good at conveying a touching story about a broken-hearted heroine and her journey that it makes your eyes wet.
That’s Sayonara Wild Hearts, and it’s worth 10 times the cost of admission.
It’s the best hour-long game you’ve ever played.
- Smooth, fast gameplay
- Entirely forgiving and totally accessible
- The best perk that’s ever been included to sell a pop album since Richard Cheese included vouchers to get him to play at your wedding
- It’s one of a kind (right now). I want more.