STAFF REVIEW of Sayonara Wild Hearts (Xbox One)

Wednesday, April 15, 2020.
by Josh Morgan

Sayonara Wild Hearts Box art Have you ever wondered what it would be like to listen to dream pop, ride on a motorcycle through the woods and dodge flaming skulls, all while shooting a laser gun at a three headed mechanical wolf? No? Me either, but I can now say that I have experienced it, and it was just as fun as it sounds. Through the one hour story you’ll do this and more, and then once you complete the story the game keeps going with a great set of achievements to unlock. Sayonara Wild Hearts is here to chew bubblegum and break hearts, and it’s all out of... wait, no... there’s plenty of bubblegum pop so that saying doesn’t work here. Let’s just get on with it.

Wild Hearts is a music game at heart. Everything that happens on screen and in the quick time events are synced to the beat of the dream pop music soundtrack. You’ll encounter many points of view while playing, but everything you do will be on rails. Whether it’s side scrolling, third person or first person you don’t have much control over where you go, and your job is to maneuver the hero up, down, left or right to collect the hearts and diamonds scattered all over the levels.

Throughout the levels are quick time events that you are prompted to press a button as a visual indicator helps you with the timing, and you’ll be granted “ok”, “good” or “perfect” ratings depending on how accurate your timing is. You’ll need to use both the visual indicators and the soundtrack to nail the “perfect” scores, however, I never failed the quick time events no matter how late I pressed. While this might make the game more accessible to the non-gamer, it will definitely make it less challenging for the more experienced. Collect hearts and hit “perfect” timing on the quick time events and you’ll be rewarded with a score multiplier as you can watch your score increase the further you progress in the level.

Sayonora Wild Hearts is not difficult at all to complete, but there are some sections of the game where there is mass chaos on your screen with flashing lights, high speed traversal and enemies shooting projectiles in your direction. The difficulty spikes in those areas making it harder to keep your multiplier going for a strong score, and at the end of each level you are given a bronze, silver or gold rating. Again, completing the levels isn’t difficult, but scoring gold can be, and you’re going to have to memorize the heart paths and get the bonus diamonds in each level to get gold. If you die or fail a level you will be able to continue, but your multiplier will be reset to zero and you will definitely not get a score high enough for gold.

The great thing about Wild Hearts is that the game play changes up multiple times per level. Once you start to get the hang of swerving in and out of trees in third person, the game switches things up and now you are driving the motorcycle in first person. Then, after 20 seconds of driving the motorcycle you are bumped off of it and are now surfing on a tarot card in third person scooping up hearts and dodging flaming skulls zooming at you. Then after that you are given a bow and arrow and you are able to lock onto the skulls Panzer Dragoon style, shooting them with arrows. It’s seamless and fun, and during your first play through you will never know what is coming next.

My favorite level is Parallel Universes where you are matched up against a pair of opponents that at a snap of each of their fingers the scenery changes, moving the obstacles to the location in that universe. This of course is done to the beat of the music but it’s mind bending trying to keep the path straight. With each snap, snap, clap, the obstacles in front of you are moved to the beat of the music and you will fail multiple times until you really start to see the pattern. Then, like I mentioned above, the game will change it up just a bit and throw another mechanic at you.

The music and graphics are where Sayonara Wild Hearts shines. The bubble gum dream pop music with female lead vocals will have you tapping your feet to help with the timing of your jumps and quick time events. Everything in the game is tied to the soundtrack, and you’re going to have to really feel the music and get into the rhythm to get the high scores. Along with the poppy soundtrack you are presented with a cartoonish graphic style that runs at a super solid smooth frame rate and I never once experienced a slow down. In the platforming areas you are tasked with hitting a button not only with the beat, but at the perfect moment on screen to keep your momentum going. This is represented on screen as a circle that begins to fill and at the perfect time you hit the button to keep going. If timed right, the circle will explode and the word “Perfect!” will appear and you’ll know you timed things right.

Wild Hearts is a story about heartbreak. The hero, a young woman that just had her heart broken, is near her low point and some astral beings begin their plot to destroy her universe. It’s a story that any person can relate to and she has the choice to either sit and mope, or move on and save herself and the universe. The story is told by narrator Queen Latifa, and is shown through small cut scenes that are seamlessly weaved in and out of the game play sections. It’s a great technique that really makes it feel like one experience rather than a bunch of tied together levels. In fact, once you finish the game you unlock Album Arcade mode that plays the entire game beginning to end without any score or stat interruptions.

I usually like to talk about achievements a bit in my reviews because they are a big part of my gaming style. I like doing extra things that the developer sets aside for achievements because a lot of the time they are things I normally wouldn’t try unless there was some sort of reward attached. Wild Hearts has maybe the best use of achievements that I’ve ever encountered in a game. You won’t unlock a single achievement playing through the story. No achievement is tied to level completion or beating the game and there is no multiplayer to battle for achievements. Instead, there are 24 Zodiac Riddles to solve.

The Xbox description of the achievements simply states the name of the Zodiac symbol and offers no clue how to unlock it. In the game menu there is a spot for Zodiac Riddles, and in there you will see 24 riddles to solve, each of which hints at a task to do in the game. Some of them are your normal tasks like completing all levels with a gold rank or collecting all the diamonds in the game, but others are more complex and these are my favorites. One riddle states “There is no place for me on the podium of a starway”, and this hints at not scoring above bronze on a certain level. Another riddle has you score 0 points in a level, and that might sound easy, but in fact it’s one of the hardest that I have tried so far. Avoiding all small hearts is no easy task especially since you have just spent hours following them. I suggest avoiding guides and tutorials on these achievements and trying some out for yourself.

Sayonara Wild Hearts is more of a hyperactive dream pop music video than it is a video game, and that’s a great thing when a lot of what is released these days is gritty post apocalyptic shooters. Sayonara Wild Hearts is a breath of fresh air, an absolute joy to play and has some of the most interesting achievements this achievement hunter has ever unlocked.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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