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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Switch Preview - 'Sayonara Wild Hearts'

by Thomas Wilde on July 5, 2019 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

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.

Sometimes I worry that I place too much value on novelty. Other times, I give "Best of E3" plaques to games like Sayonara Wild Hearts, which I have been struggling to describe to people for the last week and a half.

Sayonara is being developed for the Nintendo Switch (and "other platforms," specifics as yet unidentified) by Simogo, a studio in Malmo, Sweden, that's also made games such as The Sailor's Dream and Year Walk. First announced to the public at last year's Game Awards ceremony, Sayonara, according to its creators, is meant to feel like a high-concept pop music album. In that, I suppose it succeeds, although it feels more like '70s psychedelia to me.

Sayonara Wild Hearts is a rhythm-racing-music-twitch-reflexes game — I think, maybe — with a J-pop soundtrack with a story themed after the Major Arcana of the tarot deck, where you collect hearts in high-speed chase sequences while dodging obstacles, fighting themed biker gangs, and occasionally taking time for colorful, trippy action sequences that come down to as little as a single button press.

I think the premise could be adequately summarized like this: Once upon a time, somewhere else, a "harmonious universe" was watched over by the High Priestess, the Empress, and the Hierophant. The harmony was undone, however, by the intercession of another Major Arcana, Death, and its minions. Before they faded away, the old rulers sent their last heroine, the Fool, far away, to recover and hopefully return.

In present-day-ish Malmo, an unnamed, heartbroken Swedish girl gets chosen by what's left of the Fool to take up her role. She ends up undertaking an adventure to defeat the renegade Arcana, which have been incarnated on Earth in the forms of various mask-wearing, themed biker trios. For reasons.

I mean, it still makes a little more sense than The Who's Tommy.

It's difficult to summarize Sayonara. The first three levels were playable at E3 2019, behind closed doors in a surprisingly well-hidden cubicle in the West Hall of the Staples Center, and each one had a dramatically different feel to it. In general, your goal is to collect as many hearts as possible as you move along a predetermined path, dodging obstacles and enemy fire, where present, but the style of the stage, the specific challenges, and the tempo of the stage can all vary widely.

The first stage is a long skateboard level, which looks a lot like you're shredding down the fretboard from a particularly twisty round of Guitar Hero. That leads up to a triumphant henshin sequence, of all things, where the Fool dons her true identity as a masked heroine, and heads out to track down the biker arcana one by one. It all has the self-assured, random flow of dream logic.

That, in turn, involves bike chases through the streets of crowded cities, which blur by too fast to make out any but the most surface-level details, and which change into something even weirder without warning or apology. Your bike seems to come and go according to the designers' whim, and your actual showdowns with the bikers can end up as mid-air kung fu, ballet dancing on the back of a motorcycle in motion, or dodging inexplicable fireballs at a million miles an hour.

It's like Rez went back in time and had a kid with an old tube shooter like Tempest, that kid grew up listening to a lot of J- and K-pop, and then had a kid of its own with the City Escape level from Sonic Adventure 2. Given how much Sayonara changes in just the first three levels, I have no doubt that this twisted family tree will get a little taller as you progress further into it and meet more of the biker gangs. I usually hate doing the "X meets Y" style of description in previews, but Sayonara Wild Hearts is a weird, original game, and I need some kind of common ground to work from here.

It's also the sort of game where just getting through it is reasonably painless, but doing well at it will require patience, memorization, and practice. On a totally blind run at E3, I managed to get silver rankings on the first three levels, despite a few collisions and false starts, but the gold rankings were high enough above what I had that it seemed like an impossible challenge.

I always admire anyone who comes to E3 with something weird, when most everyone else builds a booth at the show for sequels, series, franchises, retro revivals, and market-tested cash runs. If you're willing to put down L.A. money for floor space for something that could not possibly have been made in response to any market demand whatsoever, because you had to know something like this existed in order to want it, then I feel like it's only fair to reward that kind of insane behavior. Sayonara Wild Hearts plays a little like a lot of things, but primarily, it's an original, weird synesthetic dream ride of a game. I don't know what to think about it, aside from wanting to see how the rest of it goes.

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