Wattam, Outer Wilds, and Sayonara Wild Hearts Form a Colorful Lineup from Annapurna Interactive
The trio of Wattam, Outer Wilds, and Sayonara Wild Hearts at PAX East made for a vibrant and original showcase from Annapurna Interactive.
The offerings from Annapurna Interactive at PAX East 2019 couldn’t be any more different from one another, yet they all inspired similar emotions and feelings. Wattam, Outer Wilds, and Sayonara Wild Hearts each showed no shortage in creativity, all provoking intense curiosity of what these games have to offer further in.
Wattam is a unique interactive experience from Keita Takahashi of Katamari Damacy fame, with a very similar art style and color palette. Outer Wilds was a space exploration title in the form of an open-world game, with fantastic world-building to boot. I came out of my demo sessions though most impressed by Sayonara Wild Hearts, a neon color-clad rhythm-based game.
If anyone tells you that they are able to verbally describe Wattam with confidence, you should have extreme skepticism. The best I could (attempt to) describe it as is a “friendship simulator” in a sandbox world. The demo started off with a mayor, a literal green cube with limbs, a face, and a top hat, and all they want is a friend. This comes in the form of a tiny, sentient rock.
Wattam is adorable. Tonally, it feels Nintendo-like, but with an added dimension of surrealism (more Teletubbies surrealism and less Adult Swim). The music invokes a wholesome feeling and adapts to not only the situation but also which character the player chooses to control, which is easily handled with the right analog stick. Each character can hold hands with another, but most have their own unique mechanic.
The mayor’s top hat, for example, houses a bomb, which creates fun and laughs when it explodes rather than pure destruction. The key to Wattam is figuring out how the increasing cast of characters all interact with each other—perhaps a little acorn can grow into a tree, which turns other characters into fruit, which then can be eaten by a mouth character, pooping them out, after which a toilet character can flush these sentient poops.
Yeah, Wattam is weird, but it piqued my curiosity, and I have a desire to see where these antics all lead to.
Outer Wilds from Mobius Digital has an original and exciting premise—the player controls an alien astronaut, finally making their first journey into space. The demo starts off on the character’s home planet, with the player going through simulations and trials on the way to pick up the required launch codes. All of the bread and butter game mechanics are expertly conveyed during this opening.
The player will practice piloting their ship with a little rocket (with rather sensitive and unwieldy controls), use a Signal Scope for a game of hide-and-seek, and undergo through a simulation involving mechanical repairs in a zero gravity cave. All of these are mechanics that I knew (without the game telling me) would be essential for the journey ahead, but it felt like a proper part of the Outer Worlds experience rather than a stagnant, stalling tutorial section.
What impressed me the most was the world building, especially by the time I reached the observatory on the home planet. A certain exhibit room housed fascinating artifacts and models, all accompanied by text. These not only fleshed out this corner of the universe, and not only demonstrated a few more gameplay mechanics (i.e. a crystal that causes some gravity hijinx), but it demonstrated a deep fascination within this village. All of a sudden, I myself felt motivated to embark on this risky journey.
Upon doing so, I violently crashed into the first planet I saw, wandered around, fell into a black hole, and floated in space until my jet pack fuel ran out. Maybe I should hit up that tutorial again.
The comparison that my friends and peers at PAX East have been making for Sayonara Wild Hearts is a Sailor Moon-esque experience—being unfamiliar with the esteemed anime, my mind jumped to other sources of inspiration during my brief but exciting demo. Imagine the film Heavy Metal, but less cynical and subversive and more wholesome, with hints of Tron. Sprinkle in some Elite Beat Agents gameplay, and perhaps the music and emotional power of Tetris Effect.
Labeled as a “pop album game” from developer Simogo, players will be in the shoes of a recently heartbroken young woman, who is then transported into a vibrant neon world by a diamond butterfly. She becomes a masked biker called “The Fool,” with the world inhabited by figures based off of tarot cards. The Fool will travel through futuristic cities, dark forests, and other eye-popping locales at high speed.
For the most part, the player will be on a motorcycle, directing The Fool left and right on the lane to collect hearts. The adaptive soundtrack matches with the action on screen, as you fly through hollow heart-shaped rings to get some air, and in later levels, fight off enemies with quick time events. But even as you ward off opponents, Sayonara Wild Hearts still has a fun, exciting, and optimistic vibe thanks to the visuals and music. As it stands, the game and its story scenario feels like a metaphor for escapism and fighting against depression, and I’m eager to see how far it goes with some of these concepts.
Wattam is set for release on PlayStation 4 and PC; Outer Wilds will come to Xbox One and PC; Sayonara Wild Hearts will release on Switch and “other platforms,” with all three games from Annapurna Interactive releasing sometime in 2019.