In a month overflowing with anticipated, high quality releases, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a shining gem you should have on your radar. This game is an expertly shaken cocktail of neon colors, trippy, dreamlike environments, a catchy synth-pop soundtrack, and skillful level design. While Sayonara is on the brief side with about an hour of total playtime required to complete the campaign, it is a truly magical experience that blew me away with its dynamic art style, captivating music, generous variety of mechanics, and heart-pumping action!
An aptly self-described “pop album arcade game”, Sayonara Wild Hearts begins with the main character falling straight into a cosmic, arcane world as a heartbroken young woman beginning a journey of self discovery and healing. This tarot-themed arcade adventure takes place over around two dozen stages, each with a specific music, style, and emotion. This is a game meant to be played more than once as you reach for mastery over its many challenges.
Sayonara’s Gameplay is blisteringly fast and will keep you constantly guessing as it introduces new mechanics and even entirely different genres. Every stage is “on rails”, only asking you to steer on the track, respond to rhythm-timed prompts, and sometimes aim.
For instance, in one track you might be on your motorcycle racing your enemies and on another you may be in a 2D side scrolling stage dodging their attacks. The next stage might be in first-person perspective than third-person and in yet another you’ll be a flat icon on the screen battling Galaga-style to the music.
I was VERY impressed with this change-it-up aspect of the Sayonara Wild Hearts because it kept the gameplay consistently fresh, interesting, and secured solid pacing. Even with all the different types of arcade offerings, each of the stages feels cohesive because they share a similar art and sound aesthetic, and are part of a boldly composed, heartfelt story arc about self-acceptance.
Visuals and Audio
The visuals in Sayonara Wild Hearts are bright and high contrast, depicting a neon, mysterious dreamworld full of masked, magical girls and synth-pop beats. None of the characters speak and you will only hear the narrator from time to time, yet the game does a great job of telling the story with character action. Each stage is crafted with the bespoke music composition assigned to it in mind, which you can tell because the action choreography is synced up masterfully with the music.
Visuals are also the category where Sayonara Wild Hearts loses just a few points with me. During many of the stages, the camera will pivot around corners or with the angle of the winding track, which makes steering needlessly difficult as the player struggles with monetarily distorted perception of distance. Additionally, due to the aesthetic of the game, while it is dazzlingly beautiful, there is sometimes too much visual noise on the screen to parse everything that is going on without a lot of practice. This is especially frustrating during “boss fight” stages when there are multiple objects or objectives to track at once.
I want more! Sayonara Wild Hearts hit all the right chords with me and I immediately wished it was twice as long when I reached the end. My favorite part about Sayonara is actually its creative use of Tarot card imagery and significance to provide emotional depth and meaning to the story, which is a topic I have expanded into its own article here.
Despite getting a little hung up on visual noise and camera angles in places, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a fabulous game I have already come back to several times after finishing the campaign. I give it an 8.5 out of 10! I’ve even purchased the soundtrack and listen to it on my daily commute- it’s that good! Sayonara Wild Hearts is a one-of-a-kind, multi-media artistic statement that defies video game genre categories with creativity and aplomb.
Thanks for reading!
Game key kindly provided by Annapurna Interactive for the purposes of review.