Sayonara Wild Hearts (2019)
Having already played and thoroughly enjoyed Donut County, Florence, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Wattam, I probably would call myself an Annapurna Interactive fangirl. That's why when I heard people raving about about Sayonara Wild Hearts, even though it didn't seem like the type of game I usually play, I was very curious and kept my eye out for it on Switch. Sayonara Wild Hearts is an action auto-runner game describe as a "visual pop album game". Sayonara Wild Hearts was thrilling as a musical and visual experience, but did unfortunately did not provide as much fun in the actual gameplay.
Sayonara Wild Hearts starts off exciting and mystical, with the narrator (Queen Latifah, apparently?!) telling us a story about heartbreak that involves characters inspired by tarot cards and the three arcana. The protagonist, a young woman, is soon launched into the first level where she's just riding her skateboard through a colorful landscape. Despite the incredible narration, the story is a little difficult for me to follow. After the introduction, new characters are introduced who you essentially chase down and defeat. I kind of understand who they are within the story, but a lot of what happens towards isn't explained too well. Regardless, I liked the protagonist a lot and she was framed as a very relatable hero.
Sayonara Wild Hearts isn't described on its summary as an auto-runner, but it definitely is one. There's nothing wrong with that, but I've played my fair share of auto-runners, especially on mobile, enough to know that they don't really hold my attention for too long. It's not too difficult to complete a level, but ideally a game like this should be enjoyed by aiming for high scores and scooping up every coin available. Personally, I'm not too motivated by just having a high-score if its not going to add to the game story. I will say that Sayonara Wild Hearts is, in my opinion, the best an auto-runner can be. However, it's still is one and therefore not a game that's a great fit for me. There are occasional rhythm portions in the game where you have to time your input with the music and visual cues in order to attack or dodge, and getting a "perfect" on those was particularly satisfying. I definitely would've appreciated having more of these rhythm portions within the game to balance out the running parts.
Sayonara Wild Hearts only took me about an hour and a half to complete, but that was with me scoring points mostly in bronze rank, some silvers, and an occasional "no rank" on the most challenging levels. The first time you complete a level it's highly unlikely you'll ace it, since there's a lot of unpredictability and surprises that come along your path. Each track is unique to where it would take a bit of understanding and memorizing to get full points, so you can do a lot better and have more fun replaying it. I've since gone back and played some of my favorite stages again, as well as those where I didn't score so well, so I have enjoyed getting more familiar with the levels. Sayonara Wild Hearts has a good amount of replayability, especially if you're aiming for the top ranks. However, completing the main game in less then 2 hours, I was left wanting more story and twists.
As a playable pop album, Sayonara Wild Hearts absolutely nails the soundtrack. It's incredibly catchy, fresh, and upbeat - my favorite track being "Begin Again". I love a lyrical soundtrack in a game, and it's perfectly consistent with the story and movement of the game. Each track feels like it does a slightly different genre and mood to hit the story beats. Visually, Sayonara Wild Hearts is beautiful and flashy. It plays with tarot imagery in a really clever way and gives personality and dimension to many of the cards. My favorite stages are ones that change a lot along the way and toss you into different gameplay along the way. One of these was the stage where you're inside some VR glasses and limited to that 2D plane. However, there are also a few levels that kind of just feel like Rainbow Road from Mario Kart.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is incredibly successful at being what it calls itself - "a visual pop album game". However, for some such as myself, the gameplay just isn't as exciting as the look and sound. Also, the story felt mostly symbolic and vague in a way it didn't really resonate strongly with me at the ending. I recommend it if you enjoy auto-runner type of games or if this game's powerful and stellar aesthetics catch your fancy. One of my best "indie recommendation" successes has been getting one of my friends who loves tarot and pop music to play this game and finding out it was actually a perfect match.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Apple Arcade, and Xbox One.
Played on: Switch
Playtime: 3 hrs