Sayonara Wild Hearts Brings Style to Rhythm Games – PAX East Preview
A decade ago, rhythm games couldn’t stop flying off the shelves of stores. Just four years ago, rhythm games were seemingly given a second shot after mainstream success over-saturated and consequentially emptied the market of them. The two juggernauts of the genre reignited a decade old rivalry in the hopes of recapturing the magic of its early days. They failed. A lack of ingenuity, a stagnant identity and a failure to reinvent the wheel led to an immediate decline. Before we knew it, the second age of music games was dead and gone, seemingly burying the rhythm genre with the rest of it. However, on the fringes of the industry, almost predictably, new life sprung. Over at Swedish game developer Simogo, that new life looks like Sayonara Wild Hearts, a “pop album video game about riding motorcycles, skateboarding, dance battling, shooting lasers, wielding swords, and breaking hearts at 200 mph.”
If you’ve played a rhythm game before, you know how to play Sayonara Wild Hearts. You progress along tracks with accompanying music, collecting what seem like notes for a high score. In that sense, it’s very much the standard. In almost every regard however, it’s everything but. It starts with the freedom to move. Rhythm games are rigid; they castigate you for the slightest imperfections, the hint of a blemish. Sayonara doesn’t seem like that kind of game, you kind of just flow between whatever tracks. It seems like its own, that wants to encourage you to play it however you want and in the variety of ways it presents itself.
Scenarios in the game are not concerts that your up-and-coming band are playing, but actually are the streets of neon-soaked dreamscapes. In pursuit of something greater, the player falls onto their longboard and immediately spirals into a reality literally tearing itself apart. After coasting through a dimensional rift on the board and subsequently a playing card, I found a motorcycle that carried me through the remaining duration of the demo up against a rival gang of the coolest biker chicks anyone will ever see in a video game.
Now normally, the introduction of these characters might merit some greater amount of attention that would pull you out of the experience but Sayonara, ever dedicated to make the experience a completely interactive one, immediately implements them as agents in the world. What should be a small cutscene instead immediately gives way to a chase sequence which demands the player to collect items while keeping pace with the fellow bikers, duck beneath hazards, and successfully land quick time events that ensure the player stays on the road long enough to finish the song.
As you clash with every individual biker, the field of vision contracts and expands and the tempo of the song ebbs and flows as your character floats off of the bike and through air. The world, the items and characters, and all of the fireballs come together seamlessly to make every sequence dizzying but enthralling.
By the end of my demo, I think I got a great feel for Sayonara Wild Hearts. It’s not a punishing game. As a matter of fact, it seemed insistent on making sure nothing gets between you, the music and your stylish navigation of it. I’ve got no clue what the game is about but coming away from it, it’s the game I need to know the most about and that everyone should keep their eye on.