I can’t highlight the mesmerism of Sayanora Wild Hearts’ shifting perspectives and flickering lights without applauding its masterfully arranged sounds, which have been swirling around my head for the past week. Praising one is to praise the other, such is developer Simogo’s commitment to the unification of both what you hear and what you see. Prior to launch, the Swedish studio called Sayonara Wild Hearts ‘a pop album video game,’ but I see it more as an elaborate, yet tight, stadium show from a chart-topping synth group, with all the bells and whistles befitting an arena that holds thousands. And I want to go on tour with them. Why? Because I got too excited during Track 14 and hopped my face off the guard rail, missing all the little nuances of the middle eight.
Thankfully, because Sayonara Wild Hearts is in fact a video game, and not an £80-a-ticket concert, I can go see my new favourite artist as many times as I like. And I do like! Because the more I engage with this 23-track performance, the more I can acknowledge its twists and turns – it’s an endless runner, so there are a few. You’re by no means a passive participant – steering away from obstacles, collecting hearts, and pushing buttons rhythmically to boost your score – but you are directed, and thus must experience the audio and visual artistry from the same angle as everyone else. It’s an enthusiastic ushering, though, eager as the developer is to show its instrumentation working together, while asking for your input on when the crash should hit.
Navigating stages on the fly is fine, but learning them is far more worthwhile. As thrilling as dodging parked cars on busy streets is, knowing there’s a 50-point heart slightly left of the entrance to the fourth alleyway – and, crucially, grabbing it – is glorious. Likewise, perfectly nailing the slightly more complex rhythm-action sequences is reason to tap your toe a bit more vigorously than you already were. All that takes some time, mind; you must fall off your motorcycle a couple of times before you’re totally familiar with the lay of the land. Rather than slap you with a points penalty, however, Sayonara Wild Hearts is simply keen to get you back on your bike as quickly as possible. The skilled and ambitious are rewarded, never punished. It’s only right, as they’ve been through enough already.
Whilst a tad ambiguous, Sayonara Wild Hearts speaks to all who have experienced, and overcome, heartbreak. The protagonist’s journey is ultimately one of rehabilitation, chock full of emotive imagery. The songs with vocals are obviously especially evocative, but it’s hard to pick up every lyric when robot wolves are exploding and there are tight corners to take. Nevertheless, her story, which probably has a few extra aerial stunts and a pinch more neon colouring than yours, is a relatable one.
Wouldn’t it be great if you looked out the window and you were greeted with electric pinks, seafoam greens and trippy blues? It’s hypnotic. Different shades of magenta dust the background of your battle with two sword-wielding baddies; a minimalist woodland is illuminated by an icy blue flash when your rainbow-antlered stag leaps over a large chasm; and, brilliantly, there’s a bit where you’re catching a turquoise vomit wave. That ‘80s fluorescence goes wonderfully with Simogo’s penchant for hard zooms and twirling shots: it’s drastic in the most stunning way. The camera sets scenes in first-person, before switching to a side-on view, eventually settling behind the biker, and never is it jarring. Again, you may struggle to pick up every available heart when first wrestling with the volatile changes, but you can always have another listen.
Driving trance, wispy shoegazing, and upbeat pop, the soundtrack caters to most with a natural, deliberate flow; harsh deviations in musicality from the previous are calculated and fitting with the ethos of writing a well-crafted album. The only detour that feels slightly lacking is when the game consciously slows down. After building so much momentum, the delicate offerings feel ever so out of place. The songs with vocals, however, stand out as particular highlights: giving boss fights an extra oomph, these are typically the more sophisticated arrangements, with delightful ghostly melodies echoing throughout. If anything, some songs are over before you’ve had the chance to really appreciate them.
Simogo keeps Sayonara Wild Hearts to a tight 60 minutes, which is in keeping with the theme of writing a good album – few truly good records last longer than an hour – but I did want more. Sure, I kept dipping into particular stages to better my score and aim for the gold rank, but certain ditties are a bit too ditty-y. Occasionally, you’ll find yourself bopping along, enjoying the filthy beats, before being told the bopping must stop in order to make way for forthcoming filthy beats. Which you’ll obviously bop to, too. I guess there’s always the difficult second album to look forward to.
Simogo isn’t one for sequels – we never got a Year 2 Walk or a Device7 – but it would be a shame to never get new material from the Sayonara Wild Hearts. Imagine the sophomore effort: more lasers, more harmonies, more focus. Perhaps the group would look at tackling another genre or a different artstyle. The possibilities… In the meantime, though, I’ll stick my headphones on and enjoy this dazzling debut from my new favourite artist.
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Available on: Nintendo Switch [reviewed on], PlayStation 4, Apple Arcade
Release Date: September 19, 2019
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