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Thank you kindly for your time and attention today.
After bouncing off it a couple times some months ago, I restarted Sayonara Wild Hearts from the top on Sunday evening, at the end of a very difficult and emotionally draining day. It was just the balm I needed, and I played through most of it in one sitting. More than once, it occurred to me I was playing something like “Dragon’s Lair, except good”. And that’s not bad!
I finished it tonight while waiting for my dinnertime rice to cook. The ending re-teaches the lesson that when an only-pretty-good game wraps up with a great ending, that can retroactively stamp the player’s memory of the whole experience. In Sayonara’s case, it leaves you with a lightweight variant of a typical game’s “boss rush” finale, where you face all the masked biker-dancers that you defeated earlier — but now ending every fight with a big ol’ smooch, rather than a second beatdown. I’ll remember this surprising and genuinely warm farewell for a long time.
Despite its arcade-game visual language, Sayonara offers such minimal interactivity that it seems more akin to one of Telltale Games’ engaging but low-challenge adventure games. Watching a playthrough may give it the appearance of a tricky obstacle course with the graceful heroine wholly under the player’s control, but it actually presents an album’s worth of beautiful, animated music videos to enjoy, asking for only a modicum of attention to keep the film rolling forward. You may have to press a button from time to time, when prompted, to have the motorbiking heroine leap over a gap, or use the joystick to steer her between onrushing walls. You usually have generous room for error, and receive negligible penalty for messing up, rewinding a few seconds and losing some points.
And there are points: most of the time, you can slide the ever-rushing heroine left or right to keep her on a trail of heart-shaped score-pickups. Straying results only in a stage-end animation that tells you how far you fell short of an optimal path. In fact, I didn’t get the target score in any level, except for the one that plays like Rez instead of Kaboom. I could hear the disappointment in narrator Queen Latifah’s voice every time she sighed “Bronze Rank…” as my poor fool-heroine limped to the next stage. That feeling of high-speed ineptitude made Sayonara not stick with me, the first couple of times I tried it.
But on Sunday, with Switch in hand and headphones in ears as I reclined in darkness, the game’s electroclash mood soothed enough to overcome this little, repeating sting. And that led me to discover how, if you eat the pavement enough times, Latifah comes back on the mic to gently ask if you’d like to skip that particular challenge — an accessibility affordance that far too few games offer. This unexpectedly respectful attitude helped carry me right through the embrace of that ending, and I’m glad that it did. This is a good game!
This article was also posted to the “games” section of Indieweb.xyz.
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