It’s not often I come across a game that I’d struggle to place within a genre, but I think Simogo’s Sayonara Wild Hearts tries to do that, and maybe comes up with its own. Is it an endless runner? yes, is it an on rails shooter? yes, is it a rhythm action game? kind of. What it is, is actually an interactive music album. I’m not entirely sure if such a thing has been done before, no doubt some prog rock outfit or experimental electronica creator has tried something, but like this? Surely not.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a concept album about a girl who has to learn to live with a broken heart and the emotional rollercoaster that goes with that, all told in vivid shades of purple, pink and blue, using some really good music and a narration from the legendary Queen Latifah, the difference here is that you play as the protagonist as she uses a variety of vehicles (and a stag) to defeat a variety of gangs and individuals in order for the lead character to repair her heart.
Levels play out in what one would describe as being like an endless runner, or those of us who are a little older would be as “on-rails”, think Panzer Dragoon or Rez where you control where the character moves on a 2D plain, dodging on coming attacks and obstacles whilst collecting hearts, building up your score in an old fashioned score attack manner, as the music video you are now a part of plays on and the music drives the emotion of the scene. There’s no invasive HUD, the only on-screen prompts are for when you directly take on each of your opponents, usually in some kind of duel at the end of a series of tracks.
It’s a proper sensual experience thats best played with the lights out and the sound up and its genuinely emotive. I’ve played through it three times so far, though I’ll come to those in a moment, but as the game nears its end, there’s a sequence of events where the protagonist begins to get the better of each of her foes and the music builds up and I genuinely get a lump in my throat and my eyes have had tears in them all three times. It’s a beautifully emotive game thats brilliantly put together, the emotion doesn’t just come from the game play, the story, the music or the visuals, its a culmination of all of those elements and it creates something that is very, very special.
I can’t shake the feeling that Simogo could have made it even more special. You see, there’s a decision been made here, and I think I understand what they were trying to do. Your very first play through of the game your only choice is to play it track by track, unlocking the next one as you go, which in any other game isn’t a problem. Here though, for me, it is, and that is because as you progress and get to the end of a track, you’re thrown out of the experience to click on the next track and then begin playing that. It’s not until you’ve finished that first play through that you then get to select Album Arcade mode from the Extras menu option. In Album Arcade mode you play right from the protagonist being in her bed room, the world tipping upside down and her being thrown out of her window into the games first track to Queen Latifah’s closing comments as the Protagonist is returned to her bedroom. This is how I think Simogo really wanted the player to experience the game, it certainly feels like the more purer experience and as the game is roughly 90 minutes long it doesn’t feel too long for a one sitting play through.
But I can see why they made the decision to go with the level select option as your introduction to the concept they’ve come up with, its safer, its something gamers are used to, its how every other music based game we’ve ever had is played, or if they don’t throw you back to a level select screen your quite often given a few story driven cutscenes to watch. I’m thinking of iNiS’ Gitaroo Man and Ouenden or NanaOnSha’s ParappaTheRapper or Um Jammer Lammy, where each song to be played through is different to the last with a genuine beginning and an end. Sayonara Wild Hearts feels as though it should do things differently, and admittedly in the Album Arcade mode there’s still noticeable breaks between the tracks rather than one continuous evolution of the music.
Which makes it hard to really criticise Simogo for that decision, what they’ve created in Sayonara Wild Hearts is genuinely emotive, very unique and amazingly special and I genuinely feel like my criticsm is nitpicking, but its definitely a feeling thats hard to shake and now that I have access to Album Arcade mode, its the way I’ll continue to play through it as I’ll definitely be returning, just as I return to Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Rez from time to time, and that I’m mentioning it alongside that masterpiece shows how highly I place Sayonara Wild Hearts.