‘Sayonara Wild Hearts’ on Nintendo Switch is a girly, pop fever dream

As a girl, I used to wake up and start my day by reenacting the movements of Sailor Moon‘s moon crystal power transformation. Though I didn’t know it, it was my extremely dorky version of a morning affirmation. It made me feel powerful, invigorated, imbibed with a uniquely girlish magic.

If one could distill that sensation into a game, you’d get Sayonara Wild Hearts.

Arriving on the Nintendo Switch later this year, the platformer from award-winning indie game studio Simogo combines anime vibes with a punk-pop soundscape reminiscent of Grimes. Part endless runner, part rhythm game, part music video, it delivers what the tiny Swedish game studio is best known for: a singular, gorgeously designed, full-bodied experience unlike any other game of its ilk.

Every moment of the hands-on preview felt like a never-ending free fall into pure inertia and exhilaration. Imagine the heart-in-your-throat feeling you get at the top of a rollercoaster, only sustained over the duration of an entire game level.

Unlike Simogo’s previous hits, there’s little emphasis on narrative. After establishing a vague mythic backstory, you dive head first into the neon fever dream world of an unnamed female protagonist, who transforms into a badass masked biker. You navigate the vibrant metropolis of impossible architecture at breakneck speeds, overcoming new obstacles introduced in each level. 

You dive head first into the neon fever dream world of an unnamed female protagonist, who transforms into a badass masked biker.

“It’s about being bombastic and spectacular,” said Simon Flesser, the creative lead of Simogo’s two-person team, over Skype. “The little story there is is just an excuse to have cool characters do cool stuff.”

But no one pulls off cool for the sake of cool quite like Simogo does.

The story is vague and surface level, but heightens the visceral experience of otherwise standard endless runner mechanics. There’s nothing new about collecting hearts or timing button presses correctly while racing down a road. But Sayonara Wild Hearts‘ effervescent visual and musical palette, along with in-air sword battles with rival lady biker gangs, makes them feel fresh as hell.

“A strong framing is important, even if it’s not done textually or with story. You miss out on that connection between the player and the experience if you don’t feel like a game is speaking to you with a specific personality or voice,” said Flesser. “It has to reach out with its hand to let the player in. And for lots of games, the absence of personality pushes people away.”  

You know, just your typical Wednesday, falling through space-time

You know, just your typical Wednesday, falling through space-time

What makes Sayonara Wild Hearts so unique also comes down to Flesser’s unique relationship to music as someone with synesthesia. He often sees music in colors, along with other odd sensory crossfires.

“It’s hard to talk about because it’s so intangible. And euphorbia is a very intangible feeling too,” he said.

But the palpably euphoric experience of sound and music that became Sayonara Wild Hearts clicked into place when he was messing around with the early prototype and listening to a pop playlist of Carly Rae Jepsen, Sia, and Churches.

The pink icing on the delightful neon cake that is Sayonara Wild Hearts is its decidedly feminine world. From what I can tell, the world is entirely made up of women, from the characters to the pop singer.

“Really we wanted the world to be female-centric simply because we think we have enough male-centric games. And that’s boring,” said Flesser.

All the enemies in 'Sayonara Wild Hearts' serve lewks to kill.

All the enemies in ‘Sayonara Wild Hearts’ serve lewks to kill.

Its girlish spirit isn’t ever condescending or self-congratulatory, either. Sayonara Wild Hearts simply uses the feminine as a pastiche for a traditionally masculine, action-heavy type gameplay. Without calling attention to itself, this makes for one of the most quietly empowering female experiences I’ve ever had in a video game.

Because in Sayonara Wild Hearts you kick ass by overcoming every wild new thing the world hurls at you, never missing a beat, never taking a breath to slow down. And really, isn’t that a distillation of what being a woman in this world is like? Only in this version, you get to hack those enemies with beautiful dancer-like sword fights.

“To be honest the entire game is just trying to be as inviting to everyone as possible,” Flesser said.

It certainly does that, and more. Because through Sayonara Wild Hearts’ badass flips and tricks, I might’ve just found my new geeky lady magic infused morning affirmation ritual.

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