Annapurna Interactive often publishes games that scratch that perfect pick-up-and-play itch. Last year, I had a blast playing all the way through Ben Esposito’s Donut County in one sitting. The year before that, I greatly enjoyed Giant Sparrow’s What Remains of Edith Finch. While I haven’t had a chance to check out The Outer Wilds, it’s also on my to-do list. That being said, Simogo’s Sayonara Wild Hearts is another excellent addition to Annapurna’s publishing stable. It’s rare for a rhythm game to exemplify the boundless reach of imagination, but Sayonara Wild Hearts definitely succeeds.
When the heart of a young girl breaks, it causes a ripple in reality that transforms the world in her dreams. A myriad of tarot cards are sent out and she becomes “The Fool”, donning a mask and moving through various challenges to fix the universe. Along the way, she’ll face Little Death and her allies, all of which stand in her way. It’s a subtle story, but it helps to have Queen Latifah’s voice guiding you through it. It lends itself well to the minimal narrative and makes for an enjoyable experience.
What truly sets Sayonara Wild Hearts apart from other games is the combination of stylish visuals with the musical gameplay. The game utilizes a set of pinks, purples and blues, really lending to an eye popping aesthetic. The use of cel shading mixed with gradients create an incredible look that somehow works fantastically for the fast-paced gameplay. Had we had a chance to play this earlier, it would’ve easily earned a nomination for Art Direction in our Epic Win Awards.
On top of the visuals is the main aspect of a rhythm game: the music. Sayonara Wild Hearts uses a beautifully crafted synth pop soundtrack that pleases the ears. Most stages will have short tracks that last for roughly a minute, but are still a joy to listen to. Boss stages however will use vocal tracks and last significantly longer. Easily the best part of these boss stages would be the transitions that take place during key moments in the song. As the music sets up a beat to drop, the visuals match up perfectly to further complete the transition. Some of them are just so cool that it makes you want to play the stage again and again.
Surprisingly, the gameplay holds a lot of variety between stages. Many will have the player riding a motorcycle through fast-paced stages, moving left and right to collect hearts. Things will often change depending on the scenario. For example, one stage has players driving a car, drifting and avoiding obstacles in the road. Others may give the player a bow, allowing them to shoot arrows are multiple targets at a time. It keeps things fresh, and combined with the short length of the various stages, it’s all paced very well. The fact that stages aren’t so long helps to make them highly replayable to earn better scores, or even solve Zodiac Riddles.
Sayonara Wild Hearts has 24 Zodiac Riddles, each one posing a different challenge in the game. These challenges are typically tied to achievements or unlockables, but they make for a fun distraction. Some may be easy, like pausing the game ten times. Others may be to narrowly avoid obstacles without dying in a particular stage. It’s sometimes difficult to figure them out, but once you solve them, you’ll feel a strong sense of accomplishment. This is especially true for the ones that require an immense amount of focus. In a way, they’re just artificially lengthening the game, but when the gameplay is this fun, it feels justified.
As mentioned before, Annapurna has a lot of games that can be pretty short. Sayonara Wild Hearts is no different. If you really wanted to, you could beat the game in a couple of hours. Now if you wanted to beat it and solve all the Zodiac Riddles, it would take much longer. This comes down to getting Gold rank in every stage, collecting all the square coins, and playing the unlockable mode. Overall, it just comes down to how coordinated you are with your movements. Some Zodiac Riddles involve precision timing, and that can get pretty challenging.
Don’t let the short length of the game fool you, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a genuine, heart-filled blast. The music has the potential to send you through waves of bliss and make your spirit soar. I still have the soundtrack stuck in my head, and I’m not complaining one bit. With the help of the eye-popping visuals, it combines to make for one of the most visceral experiences of the year. After playing this gem, I can’t wait to see what Simogo does next.