Music is a hell of a thing. It has the power to bring a level of happiness that not many other mediums achieve. With music festivals sweeping the country, gigs encapsulating the hearts of fans and a wealth of genres for consumers to drill into their eardrums, there’s a consistent wave of music being pumped into the industry. Sayonara Wild Hearts captivates the magic of music in a short but pulsating wild ride through its imaginative mind. It’s often described as a ‘pop album video game’, but Sayonara Wild Hearts is more than that. It’s a love letter to both gaming and music, perfectly marrying the two mediums together in one expressive package. It’s an art form and one of the best indie titles to hit the Xbox One generation.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a story of a girl suffering with a broken heart, whisked into an existential adventure to help an alternative world watched over by three divine arcanas. A mystical force in the form of death threatens this world so the three arcanas use the last of their magic to bring this girl into their plane of existence, both overcoming her heartbreak and saving their world.
A lot of what makes Sayonara Wild Hearts so special is the ambiguity that lays in its storytelling. Levels will spin you in all sorts of directions from extravagant bike chases against a three-headed robot wolf to riding on a tarot card through a hypnotic tunnel of light and sound. Whether the player chooses to put this all down to random but exhilarating levels, or choose to pick away the layers to find a deeper meaning is up to them. Sayonara Wild Hearts never forces its motives on the player, but instead allows them to build their own interpretation.
The simple gameplay hook is an on-rails runner. That concept sounds incredibly bland and uninspired on paper, but developers Simogo constantly create new ways to surprise the player with such a basic principle. Sections include rhythmic combat encounters to first-person high-speed pursuits on a motorbike. To say anymore would spoil some of Sayonara Wild Hearts’ best surprises; it is these which are best left uncovered.
Punctuating through each level is an ecstatic and pulsating score that blends various genres of music seamlessly together. Starting off low-key with renditions of classic music, Sayonara Wild Hearts quickly ups the ante with invigorating and ground shaking tracks that are enough to get the oldest of your relatives off their feet. The gameplay in each level perfectly services each track and blends multiple themes and genres concurrently.
Combat encounters rely on rhythmic ability to score a perfect score, while certain bends and bumps in the road will mould with the music in unique and satisfying ways. As each level progressively throws more challenges and gameplay styles at you, it’s easier and easier to die. But Sayonara Wild Hearts’ quick respawn system ensures you’re back into the action within a second.
The score system is also another highlight to the overly addictive experience. Each level is broken into bronze, silver and gold ranks – with the most expert of players reaching the latter. While it would be easy to breeze through the adventure within an hour or two, the high scores provide further incentive to return. Each level also features hidden collectibles for the eagle-eyed player to capture on their high speed gauntlet.
As mentioned, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a short adventure, only clocking in around the one to two hour mark. It’s slightly disappointing that further modes or incentive isn’t incorporated to keep players returning. Past the high scores, Sayonara Wild Hearts remains a visual and audio showcase to any friends or family in your household. Luckily, the short adventure is a sweet one, with never a dull moment between levels.
Outside of the superb audio, the visuals also receive the same love and care. Sporting a minimalist art style, Sayonara Wild Hearts uses blocky character models and a minimal colour palette to convey its surroundings. Built heavily around a combination of purples and whites, each level keeps a degree of continuity while also providing a unique visual touch. In its later levels, Sayonara Wild Hearts expands its visual style to more extravagant sights, but never borders on being too much.
Despite a short playtime, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a must play for not only rhythm game fans but for fans of video games or music in general. It maintains a universally open approach to its gameplay with a simple idea that’s expanded beyond belief by the end of the playtime. Sayonara Wild Hearts’ beauty lies in how it manages to blend a variety of mediums into an effective single product. While it may identify as a video game, it goes far beyond those reaches as a music album to even a film. Simply put, Sayonara Wild Hearts on Xbox One is a delightful, hypnotic treat that you would be doing yourself a disservice not to get whisked away in.