If you go into Sayonara Wild Hearts thinking you’re getting a traditional video game experience, it’ll probably fall short of your expectations.
But if you go into it expecting to be blown away by a visual tour de force, it’s likely you won’t be disappointed.
To describe exactly what Sayonara Wild Hearts is proves to be quite difficult. It’s probably best described as a “rhythm runner”, whatever one of those is. Split into 23 short levels, you’ll automatically move through the game’s world, moving side to side to pick up collectibles and dodge obstacles. Occasionally you’ll also be prompted to push a button in time with the music.
There’s not much more to it than that in terms of gameplay, but to reduce Sayonara Wild Hearts down into a series of movements is to do it a great disservice. More than it is a game, Sayonara Wild Hearts is an experience. Taking roughly an hour to complete, it’s more akin to an interactive music album. Imagine if your favourite synth-pop group put out an hour-long concept music video. That’s what you’ve got right here.
The music design is flawless from start to finish. Every level has its own track; some lasting several minutes, some barely even a minute in length. Some have vocals; others are instrumental. But together as a whole, they flow perfectly from one to another. It’s almost a shame that the first time you play the game you need to go back to the level select screen between each. (Once you’ve completed it once, you’ll unlock “Album Arcade” mode, allowing you to play through each level in succession.)
The visuals, too, are rather incredible. Neon and low poly in design, you’ll find yourself mesmerised and immersed as each level plays out. It’s not always easy to tell what’s going on as you’re expected to move your character from side to side, or up and down. You’ll probably find yourself crashing into an obstacle every so often as you struggle to take everything in. It hardly matters; if you do crash, it’s simply a case of being taken back a few seconds and trying again.
Levels are similar in terms of colour and style – there’s an awful lot of deep blues and purples – but there’s a surprising amount of creativity on display, especially in later levels. One moment you’ll be rolling along on a skateboard; the next you’re on a motorcycle, or on the back of a running stag. You’ll also find yourself flying through the air, or playing through a computer simulation inside a VR headset. The input required from you remains simple, but the change of scenery constantly impresses.
For each level you complete in Sayonara Wild Hearts, you’re given a score, with bronze, silver and gold rankings on offer if you reach a certain target. It doesn’t matter what score you get; you’re always able to continue to the next level. The mere experience of playing Sayonara Wild Hearts is more important than how good you are at it. But if you do want to chase high scores it adds a little more replayability to the game. Your score depends on how many collectibles you pick up on a level, and how well-timed your button presses are. It’s difficult to perfect the timing, and levels are often so fast-moving that grabbing the collectibles is easier said than done. Getting gold medals on every level will be challenge for those that want it.
For everyone else though, Sayonara Wild Hearts is best enjoyed without pressure. Put on some headphones, get yourself comfortable and let the game’s audio and visuals wash over you. By all means, try to get a good score while you’re at it, but the true beauty of Sayonara Wild Hearts is simply enjoying the exceptional music and getting lost in the visuals. Mistaking this for a simple rhythm game is to do it a disservice. It may be less than that in terms of gameplay, but it’s a hell of a lot more in terms of audiovisual accomplishment.