Sayonara Wild Hearts has you riding on a fantastical neon highway in the sky as ‘The Fool’, the masked biker persona of a girl whose broken heart has impacted the balance of the entire universe.
Relationships are tough, and a break-up can be downright depressing. For this young girl, it meant the world; she now finds sanctity in the fantasy persona of a biker — one who wields a sword, no less. Sayonara Wild Hearts has you speeding through levels at breathtaking speeds, fighting to regain what it means to love and discover yourself in the process.
At the beginning of the game — in a bit of a dreamlike sequence — the girl is awoken from bed by a fluttering, radiant butterfly. In a stupor, she stares up at the winged wonder until it spins four times — a move that literally turns the world upside-down, dropping the girl from her bed out her window, into the open abyss below. Luckily, she lands on her skateboard and then begins barreling down a neon-lit highway, all set to the tune of an electric version of Claire De Lune.
Hearts are the currency in Sayonara Wild Hearts, and this electric rainbow-hued road is littered with them. You’re restricted to left or right movement on your skateboard, which basically confines you to specific lanes, but you can pick up hearts by running into them. At the end of the road, once you finally catch up to and grab the butterfly, it turns into a wireframe representation of a tarot card, flies around you and then transforms you into ‘The Fool’.
Each level in Sayonara Wild Hearts is defined by a song, and while this is not a wholly rhythm-based music game, the music makes the action of the game feel next level. There are several boss fights throughout the adventure, and each one has a massive, defined expression of that boss’ personality. Nearly every boss is part of a biker gang and is fashioned directly from the major arcana tarot cards related to them. It gives the whole game this unique reference which ties into the pop-fab fashion style of letter jackets and animal masks, like some sort of nineties Halloween-themed pep rally.
When you do finally catch up to a boss after riding through the cityscapes and architecture, each pulsing to the beat of the song, the fights take on a sort of fighting ballet where you and your adversaries deliver an assortment of over-the-top fighting moves, all accompanied by quick-time events. In these events, a ring will close on a heart icon and it’s your job to hit in time when the two meet. Each boss has a different way to represent these struggles, but the format stays mostly the same, ending in a mashing section where you press quickly in succession to ramp up your power to deliver the final blow to the boss, shattering their heart and defeating them.
There are a lot of different vehicles in Sayonara Wild Hearts, ranging from skateboards to sailboats and each controls in a unique way. A top-down convertible in one level, for example, has a wide drift that you have to accustom yourself to while speeding down a set of five-lane highways. The variance of these vehicles add to the excitement and challenge, and in a game like this where you are gunning for top scores, it’ll take some practice to really understand the physics of each ride. Often, you’ll be cruising along and run into an obstacle, but thankfully, the game rewinds you to a moment just before, putting little repercussion in failure and allowing the music and experience to shine as a result.
While a lot of the game has you flying into the screen towards an uncertain destination, fighting bikers — and doing so to banging pop beats — there’s some twists to the main formula that really make the game memorable. A large, three-headed wolf robot boss fight leads my recollection of things that I love about the game, which has you firing hearts out of two mini-guns attached to the side of your motorcycle, shooting down projectiles and avoiding missiles from overhead — all while this monstrosity is running backward through a moonlit forest. Sayonara Wild Hearts is also not afraid to bring in other game genres, such as bullet hell and side-scrolling, top-down and even first-person shooters — most of which has you avoiding bullets instead of firing them, but the game is all about that constant adrenaline rush, and it delivers it in droves.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is an amazing take on the rhythm game genre, pulling inspiration from some of the genre’s best, and making it its own in a fantastic way. The music fires up from the first level and never lets you go until the credits roll, bringing you along for the ride, bringing you in the midst of the action movie styled scenes. An excellent addition after finishing the game is a seamless mode that lets you experience the entirety of the game’s levels in one seamless ride. It’s extra touches like these that showcases how well Simogo understands the beautiful music and art, treating the game like a physical album worth experiencing in one go than listening to it track by track. However you choose to experience it, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a refreshing surprise to play and a wild ride you certainly don’t want to miss.