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Sayonara Wild Hearts

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Simogo
Release Date: Sept. 19, 2019


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PS4 Review - 'Sayonara Wild Hearts'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 30, 2019 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Sayonara Wild Hearts is a euphoric music video dream about being awesome, riding motorcycles, skateboarding, dance battling, shooting lasers, wielding swords and breaking hearts at 200 mph.

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Recently, rhythm games and rhythm-adjacent games have taken to using music as a mechanic rather than the focus. If you aren't simply playing through a list of songs, you're going through songs that don't necessarily fit thematically with the game. There's nothing wrong with this, but it has been a while since we've seen this genre take on the form of an interactive concept album, where the songs don't just sound cool but also end up being essential to telling a story. Sayonara Wild Hearts is a return to form, and it has so much style that you can't help but be mesmerized from beginning to end.

Narrated by Queen Latifah, Sayonara Wild Hearts starts off with a tale about a trio of ancient arcana who, while close to defeat by their rebellious peers, disperse their power in the hopes that someone can come along and be their champion. That person happens to be a young woman who's feeling lost and heartbroken due to a recent breakup. Alone in her room, she is visited by a sprite, who tells her that she has been tasked with wrangling the wayward arcana and returning harmony to the world.

Ultimately, the game is about heartbreak and recovery, but it's told in the most oddball of ways. The discovery of the sprite leads your character to fall out of her ceiling window, ultimately landing on a celestial highway that twists and turns until you're riding down city streets on a motorcycle. Aside from racing and fighting some people, you land in a forest and ride a deer toward a fight against robot wolves. You'll hop in a car only to land in a VR world, fly through more highways in space, fight against twins that can change the environments at a finger snap, and even fight off demonic bats. It all plays out like a fever dream, but it makes sense once you start playing.

This sounds like it can be complicated, but the game simplifies this by being an auto-scroller. No matter the level, you'll always be moving forward, collecting hearts and cards to boost your score while also avoiding obstacles. Some levels have you doing more, like hitting special areas to make sharp turns or boosters to make leaps to close gaps. You'll even switch to roads that go across the ceiling. Other stages have you do a few Quick Time Events, where you're either hitting buttons in time or just mashing to get the best result. All of this is done with only one analog stick and one button, making the game easy for anyone to pick up and play, but it's fun for any skill level.

The aim for accessibility and attracting a wider audience means that the game is very forgiving in many areas. Crash into an object or fail miserably at a QTE, and you'll immediately restart close to your failure point, so you can try again. You have unlimited lives, and failing at the same spot three or more times brings up an option to skip the trouble area and go a little further into that level. Your score gives you a ranking of bronze, silver, or gold, but getting no rank still allows you to reach the next level. In short, the game does everything in its power to ensure that if you start it up, you'll get to the ending, no matter how good or terrible you are.

One point of contention is that the idea of playing this like a concept album gets disrupted on the initial playthrough due to the fact that all 23 songs have their own levels. With most of the instrumentals being a little over a minute long, that leaves quite a number of song breaks. The game features no loading, so the waiting around is kept to a minimum. With the journey clocking in at a little over an hour, it won't take long before you open the album mode, where you can play the game as one continuous level, like it was meant to be.

Reading all of the above, those who play games for challenge may be initially disappointed, but the game also finds ways to cater to them. Aiming for a gold medal in any of the levels is difficult, especially since the hearts and cards can sometimes be in areas with tight turns. The game moves fast enough for you to miss them, but accomplishing this gives you the option to play the game in full album mode — with only one life from beginning to end. Beating this gives you access to one more medal ranking in each level, called Wild, which essentially demands perfection since the only way to achieve it is to find every single point in the level. Finally, there are the 24 zodiac wheel puzzles that don't unlock anything but are something for Trophy hunters to chase, since all of them are tied to this feature.

For the presentation, the first thing that'll catch your attention are the artistically stunning graphics. Sayonara Wild Hearts is bathed in flat colors, but everything contrasts in a way that each element pops on the screen. The dark backgrounds make motorcycle wheels and humans stand out, while some of the more stylized effects benefit from the newfound artistic flair. Animations are buttery smooth, and the game's adherence to a solid 60fps does well to make everything look energetic. The style can essentially be summed up as moving modern art, mimicking pixel art in its ability to be timeless.

Along with the modern art look comes the soundtrack, which is the real focal point of the title. There are a few instrumental tracks that start off dreamy but quickly reach a high tempo. Others stay high-energy and don't slow down, and even the one or two melancholy tracks sound like they're building up to something grand, due to the mix of modern electronica and old '80s synth. The vocal tracks give the game the feeling of a big pop album. Linnea Olsson's vocals blend in well with the beats provided by Daniel Olsen and Jonathan Eng to produce something energetic and pleasant, driving the game into an infectious pleasant mood from beginning to end. This is a soundtrack that you can easily listen to on its own, but the combination of the soundtrack and the visuals can make the eternal argument for games as art.

If you're looking at Sayonara Wild Hearts as a game, then it'll remind you of a very forgiving arcade game. There are some extra modes designed to challenge those who are chasing high scores, and the zodiac wheel is good for those who want to earn some Trophies for solving brain teasers, but the game's forgiving nature and short length mean that it is easy to reach the game's ending. Instead, the game wants you to look at it as a catchy pop album that you'll want to return to, time and again. With the gameplay, graphical presentation, and music coming together so well, that's exactly what you'll be doing.

Score: 8.5/10

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