Retro magical girls practicing synthpop self-love while street racing
It’s pretty criminal how long Sayonara Wild Hearts stayed in my backlog; a racing game that consistently makes people cry? That’s definitely a new one for me (and makes me feel a lot better about shedding a tear or two). So, to make amends, I’ve decided to do a very belated review. It’s the least I can do for such a stunning experience.
Developed by Swedish developer Simogo and published by Annapurna Interactive, Sayonara Wild Hearts, which holds the coveted Overwhelmingly Positive rating on Steam, is as gorgeous as it is good. And as it’s available on PC, PS4, Apple Arcade, and Nintendo Switch for only $12.99, it’s accessible too. A playable rock opera and straight up magnum opus, Sayonara Wild Hearts took home plenty of perfect ratings from critics, and even just looking at the trailer, it’s easy to see why.
The story unfolds on a young woman who was very happy — until her heart broke so violently, it rippled across space and time. That young woman was also the fated love fool, destined to save the world by a trio of fading arcana. Through magical portals, mystical highways, shimmering waters, and lore-filled forests, our protagonist battles biker girl gangs, tarot cards, wolf packs, and inner demons in her quest to mend her broken heart. Will she ever learn to love again? More importantly — will she love herself?
Controls are fairly straightforward, and Sayonara Wild Hearts does an excellent job of teaching players how to use them without the need for a tutorial. Arrow keys and WASD can be used interchangeably to direct the plethora of vehicles used, and space completes QTEs. For the menu, it’s “backspace” to get out of any particular submenu (you’re welcome — that one was NOT intuitive for me). Everything is as fluid as can be, with absolutely nothing sticking so long as you move to the beat.
I feel like the aesthetics speak for themselves, but I’m here to gush about them anyway. Sayonara Wild Hearts utilizes a sythwave color pallet to its ultimate potential and a synthpop soundtrack that belongs on everyone’s playlist. My particular favorite standalone song is probably Begin Again, but you really can’t go wrong with any of these absolute eargasms. Depending on your mood, you might prefer the more bubble synthpop or the darker synthpop — there’s something for everyone, which is fantastic.
Back to that color though — Sayonara Wild Hearts is true eye candy. There’s not a hue out of place, with every single color working in perfect pallet harmony with the others. You can legitimately feel the serotonin rush through your brain as you proceed, those sweet, sweet endorphins elevating your mood as you progress through the game. Even if you’re not a retrowave fan (which, why aren’t you?), you’ll at least admit there’s some glorious use of color happening here.
When it comes to level design, Sayonara Wild Hearts is head and shoulders above any perceived competition. The music and visuals come together in progressively more difficult and always unique levels, weaving a story that ebbs and flows as time goes on. As is the nature of rock operas, it’s hard to dissect one individual portion without speaking about the others. How can I possibly illustrate to you just how amazing it is to fly through canyons as a song about a breakup plays, followed by riding a white stag through a dark forest, only to come to what I can only describe as the most creative level I’ve seen… ever? Where you have to play anywhere from two to four maps at the same time, the maps rotating after each beat. Each level built upon the last, and there was a strong desire to quickly beat the level to move onto the next great thing.
As for how everything felt — seamless. An incredibly forgiving experience, Sayonara Wild Hearts didn’t penalize first time players much, preferring to allow players to quickly complete the game in an hour or two. While some may balk at the completion time, it’s for the best — it truly feels more like an interactive synthpop album instead of a game in the traditional sense, and since experiences like these are few and far between, it’s incredibly welcome. For those who want a little more of a challenge, there are optional zodiac puzzles that require true talent to achieve, so there’s definitely something for everyone.
With all that being said, I do have a few complaints, unfortunately — for one, I actually felt somewhat cheated that completing the game the first time around yields no Steam achievements. Out of 24 possible achievements, not one of them is given to players for completing the game. Granted, I received no gold rankings in my first run, so it’s entirely possible I simply missed one, but for those who take pride in collecting achievements, this may be a point of contention, and it certainly was for me.
Additionally, the level progression was, while incredible, interrupted by levels in-between that felt fairly repetitious. Additionally, I personally feel the parallel level was the climax of the game, the two minor bosses that followed not living up to what had been built before it. The good news is that everyone’s favorite level is fairly subjective, and, due to the mechanics introduced in each level, I truthfully can’t see them being rearranged, but the first half felt like it was building up to something only to swerve to a completely different direction.
Despite that, it’s still incredible how much Sayonara Wild Hearts resonated with people in seemingly different ways. One woman wrote about how Sayonara Wild Hearts “revels in femme queer romance,” while I drew from my own personal growth in romantic experiences during the years-long isolation of my long distance relationships. I think the true theme is hardly arguable, however, as the lovely narrator, Queen Latifah, indicates the protagonist “fell right into her groove,” which to me suggests a focus on self-love navigated through loss. Regardless of what anyone takes away from it, it’s indeed powerful, as countless players shed tears throughout the game.
Perhaps that’s the strongest point of Sayonara Wild Hearts — in a game about street racing, collecting hearts, sword fighting, shooting mechanic wolves, and riding a barf trail betraying gravity, there’s a message that cuts through individuality to the heart of the matter, if you will, touching anyone who plays in a way that connects us. I can absolutely see how this is a femme queer romance, and I can totally see how another Steam reviewer was able to process the loss of her father through this game. Everyone gets something out of Sayonara Wild Hearts that speaks specifically to who they are in that moment, and that’s an incredibly beautiful thing.
Sayonara Wild Hearts made such a lasting impression on me — this is definitely the kind of game that’s easy to pop in and play when having a bad day. An instant mood-booster with a lot of love to give, Sayonara Wild Hearts is absolutely anyone’s game. Music fans, retro gaming fans, gamers young and old, casual and hardcore, or those simply looking for something new will find at least one level that blows their mind, walking away from the experience impressed and uplifted. Be sure to say hello to Sayonara Wild Hearts and add it to your library as soon as possible.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: iOS, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC (reviewed); Publisher: Annapurna Interactive; Developer: Simogo; Players: 1; Released: September 19, 2019; MSRP: $12.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a review copy of Sayonara Wild Hearts purchased by the reviewer.