Sayonara Wild Hearts (2019)

Wow. I honestly wasn’t expecting much out of this “mobile game” as it released as one of the big titles for Apple’s Arcade subscription service, but I heard almost universal praise as soon as it was released. It was really the only title that was talked about positively and why Apple’s service was even worth it. I went in knowing very little, other than it was a mobile rhythm game, and that is only part of the truth.

Sayonara Wild Hearts takes place in a dream like world, that apparently was very controlled by some beings and evil beings began to cause trouble, so the shattered hearts of the lonely were formed to create a hero to vanquish the ner’ do wells called “Wild Hearts”. It’s all very lofty and just used as set dressing, so there could be some sort of story. I honestly don’t think it needs much, and I really think that the story is kinda a hindrance to the whole game. It really doesn’t need it, nor does the story fit all that well.

You play as a girl who gets ripped out of her world, and transported into another time and dimension. One where tarot cards play a huge role in the level design of the game. Each card has a theme and the level loosely ties into that. But once the game gets going… that’s where everything changes.

The game starts off as a several lane highway, where you have to push left or right and grab hearts that float in the middle of that lane. Picking up these hearts contribute to your overall score. Once you get to the end of the level, your score is given a rank: Bronze, Silver and Gold. That’s really the main goal of the game, get the highest score possible.

Each level is held together with music, some of it a bit ambiance, some a bit techno, some a bit pop vocal… but it all works together well to tell the true story. Your character has to defeat the evil Wild Hearts, a group of misfits in greaser attire that ride motorcycles and wear masquerade masks. They look like they are right out of a sock hop, and have the Rebel Without A Cause style. The Art Direction for this game is lots of blues and pinks, and everything pulses in and out with the beat of the song for the level.

The music and level move at different speeds depending on the timing of the music and how well you do. Everything is extremely linear and this is more of a story game with a focus on score. It’s almost an on rails experience, but that isn’t a bad case here. Every moment is meticulously timed and heart pounding. Every movement has to be perfect to get the best score, and while I only replayed a few levels to get a better score of Bronze, the experience is so exhiaerating that all you want to do is to keep progressing through the story.

The game does an amazing job of keeping the action well paced and also building upon it. There were so many times that I wanted the game to forego the level finishes and dropping me out into the level select menu, but with the way the game progresses, you need those breathers. There are also lower levels that are called “Subspace” levels, where they act as filler and downtime levels, to give you a bit of breathing room.

At times I felt like I was on a roller coaster and felt like it was even a theme park ride or was watching a movie. It’s just so incredibly well timed. The theming of the levels, each with its own identity and feeling. Sometimes you are flying or on your motorcycle, other times you are riding a elk or driving a car… It’s just an incredible sense of wonderment, like you have entered a dreamlike state. And that’s probably one of the best recommendations I can give about this game, it feels like you are playing a dream.

The difficulty really isn’t there unless you are bent on getting a Gold Rank in all levels, which would have been an exercise in memorization that I wasn’t willing to do. I just wanted to see the game through and keep going. It’s not hard, but there were points that I restarted levels because I knew I could do better.

Near the end of the game, the mechanics change a bit and there are points that make you paint enemies with a crosshair and blast away, like Rez or Panzer Dragoon. Other times you feel like Shenmue with QTE button presses that need to be timed. I found the timing to be just a fraction after the circle got to the symbol, so it felt a bit off.

For a $10 game that takes only an hour to finish, mainly done by just a couple of people… it’s an incredible accomplishment that made me really stop and just shake my head in amazement several times. After a few levels I actually wanted to clap because of how well done everything was. The game has a sense of its own style and feeling. It’s unlike really anything else out there at the moment and just such a beautiful and insanely well done game from a small group of talented individuals.