Sayonara Wild Hearts Review
Watch the launch trailer below.You move your heroine left and right to grab hearts which boost your score, all while traveling at impossible speeds. The setting changes drastically level to level (and sometimes moment to moment), but that basic structure generally stays the same. Sometimes I was driving a high-speed motorcycle through a city, aiming for jumps and dodging dead ends, while other levels had me falling downward as though I was skydiving. The frequent setting changes always caught me off guard in the best way, and I had no idea what was coming next.
No matter the scenario, movement is limited to the constraints of that level’s linear path, and while its simplicity let me focus on the wonderful art and sound, I rarely felt challenged in a meaningful way. Even the occasional rhythm-game moments where you have to press a button with specific timing are incredibly forgiving and let me press the necessary input well after the window had seemingly closed. I felt many things while playing Sayonara, but rarely fear of failure, which made the whole trip sometimes feel disappointingly passive. Bronze, silver, and gold tiers are earned for achieving varying high scores through greater precision, but outside of the reward of hearing Queen Latifah exclaim “Gold rank!” at the end of a level, I wasn’t compelled to chase those awards.
Even still, Sayonara is immediately entrancing from its opening moments and rarely slows as you pursue its masked villains in cars, through forests, on foot, and even through virtual reality. That last example is the one point where the mad sprint slows down unnecessarily. In a world where you can leap from the back of a galloping deer while shooting lasers at robot wolves, entering virtual reality to play an Atari-era inspired level where you slowly dodge bullets pulls down an otherwise well-paced experience.
The music, animation, and art design all deserve special commendation. The soundtrack is full of catchy pop melodies with female vocals backed by chiptune rhythms. Sometimes it sounds like music that could be played on the radio alongside today’s top hits, and other times it veers into the more niche synthwave genre, but I enjoyed all of it. Even for the few tracks I liked less, I was still excited by how they were combined with everything happening on screen.
Though the art style is relatively simple, it uses vibrant neons on black backgrounds to create a clean, attractive aesthetic that worked well to quickly explain what I needed to do while I ran at a breakneck pace. Sayonara is one of those games where just about every still could be a beautiful screenshot thanks to its conservative use of color and well-designed characters.
The way the characters dance, fight, and move through the environment to the music is stellar. I also loved that the transitions from cutscene to gameplay are seamless. In every situation, just watching what is happening on screen is joyful – you can even opt to play Sayonara’s 23 levels without breaks between stages in Album Arcade mode. This mode makes it feel like you’re playing this bizarre story in one epic marathon, which is a reasonable race to run considering the full campaign only lasts about an hour or two. Chasing gold ranks and the Zodiac Riddles (which are functionally cryptic achievements) offer some encouragement to revisit levels, but they are ultimately minor additions.
As for the story, I could not tell you exactly what happens in Sayonara Wild Hearts or even summarize its plot in a tangible manner, but I was moved throughout the journey in ways I can’t fully explain. The ending stands out in particular as being so wholesome and sweet that it honestly made me tear up a little while wearing a smile on my face. I ended up replaying the final level multiple times just because I enjoyed the way it incorporated everything leading up to it so well.