Mobile games are on quite an uptick lately. While there’s always been a decent amount of solid mobile experiences every year, there was definitely a time where most games available on your black mirror were nothing more than glorified slot machines or hurry up and wait simulators. Apple Arcade’s initiative to bring quality offline-capable games to their mobile devices has been nothing short of stellar during its first few months. Despite that, it’s been difficult to pick out a singular “killer app” on the service. With Sayonara Wild Hearts, I think we’ve found a prime candidate.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is so much more than it seems at the surface level. It’s the perfect blend of music, light narrative, incredible visuals, fun, and evolving gameplay, all wrapped up in the perfect on-the-go friendly package. Going into this review, I was expecting nothing more than a quick way to pass the time on a 4-hour flight from Los Angeles to Orlando. Instead, I got a gameplay experience that, even after I finished the game, I couldn’t wait to try it all over again and again. Admittedly, this may sound like hyperbole, especially considering the fact that my first impressions were on a plane with nothing else to do. However, I waited a few days and played the game again on the Nintendo Switch and iPad just to make sure it was as good the second time around. Surprise surprise, it was.
Heartbreak I – Fighting Hearts
Gameplay is obviously a vital aspect of most videogames, but you tend to give a bit of leeway to a mobile game. Especially when compared to a AAA experience. Sayonara Wild Hearts is one of the few games I’ve played on mobile that didn’t feel like it was compromised whatsoever because of its touch controls. While it controls excellently on the Switch, mobile games should always be judged on the default controls without the use of an external controller, so for the rest of the review, I will be focusing on touch controls.
You control Sayonara Wild Hearts with swipe movements and the occasional tap, all in time with music and visual cues. The team at Simogo did an excellent job making these commands easy to spot without cluttering the screen or slowing down the gameplay. These issues plague most rhythm games (have you tried to play DDR in the last decade?), especially on phones with smaller screens.
The core gameplay is simple. You dash forward towards enemy bosses while collecting as many hearts as possible without getting killed. You dodge projectiles and obstacles at the very last second to get a higher score, blah blah blah. To fix what is a very bland gameplay loop on the surface, every single level changes things dramatically without adjusting the fundamental mechanics. For example, One stage had me riding a bike dodging projectiles with the occasional tap to jump. In the next level, I was drifting a car during a sword fight, which was followed up with a bullet hell section that takes place on the front of a VR headset. Not once did I ever find myself wondering what to do next, everything just came naturally and felt “right” without the need for a tutorial or even on-screen button prompts. It’s an incredibly engaging way to keep the player interested and engaged.
Difficulty and the overall run time of the game are interesting in Sayonara Wild Hearts. While it never felt like it dragged on or the game was “easy”, it also never felt like it overstayed its welcome. Your first playthrough will be short, lasting around 2 hours. Like all rhythm games, it’s more about replaying and trying to get a higher score. Sayonara does a great job of striking a balance so things never get too difficult, but the game isn’t holding your hand either. If you die too much in the same place, you get the option to either skip that section or keep going. Accessibility like this is something that’s definitely welcome in modern games and I appreciate the option to make things easier without dropping down to an easier mode. Quite frankly, if you’re not good at timing, there are a few spots that would be extremely difficult without this conceit.
Heartbreak II – Alone In A City Of Ghosts
At its core, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a musical of sorts. While it isn’t presented like a traditional 3 act musical and the story is bare-bones (defeat the darkness, get out of your depressive funk, Kiss the curse away) everything about Sayonara Wild Hearts centers around music without becoming too overbearing and obvious. Like all great musicals, movies, and game, Sayonara Wild Hearts trims the fat and keeps you engaged with a less is more ethos. One problem with modern games is the overabundance of exposition and almost forced storytelling, to the point of utter annoyance. Rather than going down that “cinematic” route, Sayonara throws convention out the window and leaves you with a narrative that’s closer to something you’d see in an elaborate music video. I never once really cared who my nameless protagonist was or why she was so pissed off, and it really didn’t matter.
The music itself tells the story through its lyrics, track titles, and general song composition. From the swelling and uplifting feeling you get from the track “Fighting Hearts”, to the bittersweet emotions the chorus of “Wind Hearts Never Die” evokes, to the lyrical composition and storytelling “Dead of Night” brings to the overall narrative, there’s really something special here that very few videogames have managed to capture.
Composer and songwriters Daniel Olsen and Jonathan Eng do a remarkable job at capturing a sound that fits the gameplay and visuals perfectly. If you’re a fan of female vocal-led bands like CHVRCHES, Pvris, early Shiny Toy Guns, or just like a good synth-pop/vaporwave sound, you’ll find the music in Sayonara Wild Hearts right up your alley. Each song plays well during gameplay, taking dying and restarting in mind with the composition. In fact, it’s one of the few music games I’ve played that seems to be able to pull off playing a song cohesively without me noticing the gaps in the music when I died. The soundtrack isn’t without its faults, and there are a few spots where the music could have been more exciting to better match the on-screen happenings.
Heartbreak III – Wild Hearts Never Die
So what’s actually wrong with Sayonara Wild Hearts? To be honest, not much. There are a few spots where the bullet-hell gameplay may have been a bit too much for me to handle, and the game got significantly better once I bumped up the sensitivity a bit more. However, those are more personal problems than actual negative points against the game itself. Sayonara handles amazingly well on the Switch, while the iOS version is enjoyable on both iPhone and iPad with a pencil. It’s actually one of the few times I’ve played a game and immediately knew I was getting into something special and different. Hence why I decided it was necessary to play through it 3 times on different platforms. It’s one of those rare moments in gaming where the experience is rock solid from start to finish, and quite frankly, that’s something we could see more of not just on mobile platforms, but gaming in general.
In short, Sayonara Wild Hearts is easily Apple Arcade’s first “killer app.” It’s a must-play if you’re a subscriber, interested in music games, or just want to try something that doesn’t require a massive time commitment. The synergy between the visuals, gameplay, and music raises the bar for the genre and I can’t recommend this game and its soundtrack enough.
TechRaptor reviewed Sayonara Wild Hearts on Apple Arcade and on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the developer.