E3 2019 Hands-on: Sayonara Wild Hearts

“A Pop Album Video Game.” That was the first description I had heard of Sayonara Wild Hearts back when the game’s initial trailer debuted during the 2018 Game Awards. Of course, that’s because that’s the first line the trailer opens up with, and after going hands-on with the game, I can see where developers Simogo are coming from with that description.

On the first day of E3 I had the opportunity to try out the opening levels of Wild Hearts at Annapurna Interactive’s small private booth in the show’s South Hall. With the game being one so heavily focused on music, I definitely appreciated the private atmosphere given to this demo.

The first stage of the game opens up with a young woman lying in bed in her home…when her home suddenly does a 180, dumping her out of the roof and on to a skateboard to ride down a multicolor highway. At the end of this sudden adventure she meets her alter-ego: “The Fool,” a masked biker who then sets out to stop some other biker gangs and literally break their hearts.

In case you couldn’t pick it up from that quick description, Wild Hearts is definitely a trippy game. Most of its style comes from blending solid-colored polygons into surreal landscapes, with the camera constantly panning around to keep you unsteady on what’s actually going on.

The gameplay itself made me think of a combination runner game and Audiosurf. Most stages have you controlling The Fool as she rides or flies through a stage, collecting hearts as tokens and dodging various obstacles. The appearance of said items and obstacles, as well as camera change cues, are mostly dictated by the music playing in the background. While some of the odd camera angles presented did increase the difficulty of maneuvering to collect hearts, I didn’t find myself having much trouble with these initial levels. I think I only hit obstacles a couple times, and with the game immediately reloading to just before I hit them, it was hardly something I worried about.

There are a few portions that play out more like a standard rhythm game, mostly when The Fool is fighting against some enemy bikers. Occasionally, a symbol will show up on the screen with a ring approaching it, and you have to tap the ‘A’ button when the ring hits the symbol (to the rhythm of the music) to dodge or perform an attack. These portions felt more like quick-time events than a rhythm game, but I would expect them to get more difficult as the game progresses, and through that become more rhythm-like.

As for the music itself, the portion I played through featured spacey synth-heavy pop, which took a while to grow on me. I wasn’t very impressed with the first couple tracks, but as the levels progressed and I was introduced to the enemy bikers I had to take down, the music likewise began to pick up and become more interesting.

Of particular note was the lengthiest stage I played, where I was tasked with taking down the team of three enemy bikers one by one. This stage featured a vocal track, with the chorus and various drops timed perfectly to various setpieces within the level.

After finishing up the demo, the reveal trailer played again, and I was able to understand it a bit better now that I had some time with the game. The trailer features multiple groups or leaders of bikers, and it sounds like each of them will have their own pop music style represented in the game.

Overall, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a game I plan to continue keeping an eye on. I’m a sucker for games that blend catchy music and trippy visuals, which makes this game feel like it was made specifically for me. I’ll have to wait for the full release to see how well the core gameplay holds my interest in the long-term, though, as keeping the same runner-style mechanics may grow tiring if the game has a long run time.

Sayonara Wild Hearts was developed by Simogo, and will be published by Annapurna Interactive for the Switch sometime later in 2019.

Screenshots courtesy of Annapurna Interactive.