Capsule Review: Sayonara Wild Hearts

Moody and beautiful, but too unreadable to be a good rhythm game and too interruptive to be a good interactive album.

A rhythm-game-like playable pop album. The mood and aesthetic are strong, but the game is more cinematic than playable which causes problems with its flow-breaking difficulty spikes.

Taken strictly as an audiovisual experience, the game is sublime. The mostly-abstract story of finding harmony after heartbreak complements the sad-pop soundtrack and blue/purple color palette, coming together to create a beautiful, dreamlike atmosphere.

But it’s meant to be played, not just watched and heard, and that’s where things become less coherent. It’s closer to being a rhythm game than anything else - you play through an album, the scenery and your actions relate to the music, you often have to do things more or less to the beat, and successfully following the cues earns you a higher score. What you actually have to do, however, changes near-constantly. Camera angles, physics, exactly what the controls do, the meaning of several in-game cues, all shift frequently and suddenly. The results probably look amazing - I’d expect watching a perfect playthrough to be downright hypnotic - but are very disruptive to the player. Everything also moves quite fast with very little time to react to cues, and I find it hard to imagine even expert rhythm game players doing well before memorizing the levels.

This is a valid design choice and makes some sense with the “pop album video game” conceit - after all, it’s normal to have to listen to albums multiple times to fully appreciate them. However, it’s not normal for albums to make you repeat the last few seconds if you fail to predict what the song is going to do next, which Sayonara Wild Hearts does. In some parts of levels, imperfect play will just mean a worse score; in others, it means you’ll hit an obstacle which causes the level and song to immediately rewind a few seconds for another try. From a rhythm game perspective, this often feels unfair due to the constant changing of the game’s rules; from an interactive album perspective, this is interruptive and disruptive. If you fail repeatedly in the same segment of a level, the game will pause and offer to let you skip that part - which means you miss out on that part of the song and visuals.

The resulting game is a bizarre middle ground that fails to live up to its potential in either direction. As a rhythm game, it is unreadable; as a playable pop album, it is punishing. Either way, it’s hard to get into a groove as a player until you’re familiar with the game’s tricks. If that doesn’t put you off and you’re willing to endure some possibly-frustrating attempts before you can really connect with the game’s heart, give it a go - it is beautiful and many are likely to find it uplifting. Otherwise, maybe just watch a perfect playthrough online.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished all of the normal levels, unlocking Album Arcade. Although the game is clearly intended to be replayed, I no longer had any interest in doing so after having basically never achieved a flow state in its entire duration. I could get into this game if it had some kind of No Fail Mode, but in the absence of that, I’m moving on.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

You can get it or learn more here.