A broken-hearted girl is transported into the sky, where she takes on the role of a masked biker. In this dreamlike world, she races along neon streets and other surreal landscapes, picking up collectables and navigating shifting paths, all the while accompanied by an electronic soundtrack. This is Sayonara Wild Hearts, a beautiful trifle that seems to end just as it’s gaining momentum.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is mesmerizing to look at, but unfortunately it falters as a game. The first few stages get you acclimated to weaving your character left and right on the tracks, picking up heart shapes and other collectibles to earn higher scores. And really, that’s just about all there is. The perspective shifts in some impressive ways, with a camera that pulls back until your rider is a tiny speck or rotates woozily in tunnel sections where you ride freely on the walls and ceilings. Camera trickery aside, you’re doing the same basic thing throughout the short experience. A few moments break from that format, such as a VR-inspired game-within-a-game that plays a bit more like an arcade shooter, but these deviations are unfortunately all too brief.
You’re hurtling along at a breakneck pace much of the time, but instead of feeling exhilarated, I was reminded of those moments in the early 3D Sonic games where you’re being propelled along on a ride that’s barely interactive. Sure, it looks neat, but if you’re not going out of your way to pick up the objects that flash by, you aren’t missing out on anything beyond medal rankings upon stage completion. Most of the time these things flash by so quickly that acquiring them is more reliant on memorization and repetition than reflexes.
Music is an integral part of Sayonara Wild Hearts, though the action and soundtrack aren’t tightly syncopated most of the time. Instead, the two elements support each other thematically, much like a music video. There were moments where I picked up collectibles that chimed in time with the music or hit a speed boost that whooshed along with the beat – as well as some timing-based cues against a handful of bosses – but you don’t need to have a strong internal metronome to succeed.
The story is mostly alluded to in pantomime, and I’m still not confident that I fully get what it’s trying to say. Is the girl coming to terms with past relationships? Is she becoming more attuned to the various facets of her personality? Is it something entirely different? I’m certain that the last section was intended to be a triumphant coalescence of everything that had come before, but without having any real emotional attachment to what was going on, it falls flat.
I quite enjoyed looking at Sayonara Wild Hearts, even though interacting with it left me cold. In fact, I probably would have liked it just as much if it were just a short film. As it stands, it’s an impressively stylish title with a disappointing amount of substance.