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Sayonara Wild Hearts tackles heartbreak with rhythm, neon, and the best soundtrack ever

(Image credit: Simogo)

The sentiment is clear: follow your heart. No matter where it takes you, it's going to be an adventure. Yes, there will be ups, downs, and potentially intergalactic incidents, but overall it's going to be something you're never going to forget. Now, that goes for life as much as it does for Sayonara Wild Hearts, a glorious new rhythm arcade from developer Simogo. 

There are tears in my eyes minutes after starting Sayonara Wild Hearts. After the opening cinematic, a twinkly, lo-fi version of Claire de Lune is blasting through my TV speakers, and as my skateboarding character soars through the air, I'm reminded of stories of my maternal grandmother playing the very same piece – bar the techno influences – on the piano. It's story that's been repeated throughout my life, and every time I hear Claire de Lune I'm reminded of my mother's anguish at her passing. Because of that, it means Sayonara Wild Hearts hits me straight in the feels as hard as I'm about to send our heroine into the back of a bus. Repeatedly.

This is not a rhythm action game like any other, and it almost feels redundant to call it that. The narrative will have you weaving through 24 levels of varying length and intensity, telling the tale of a young woman who's had her heart broken. I'm not entirely clear whether it's just the one romance that she's lamenting, but as someone who's had her fair share of heartbreak, it plays out like she's replaying every swell of love and crushing heartbreak that she's ever experienced in her life in one 45-minute gameplay experience. 

There's an intensity to Sayonara that somehow perfectly managed to capture both the good and bad emotions that you experience through love, regardless of the fact it's presented using a colour palette reminiscent of '80s neon obsessions, and with a custom pop soundtrack that needs to be released immediately so I can pump it into my ears on command. 

Follow your heart

(Image credit: Simogo)

In terms of gameplay, I wasn't joking when I said you'll need to follow your heart. They line the various pathways presented to you in Sayonara Wild Hearts, offering you a kind of racing line, or at least a way through the neon madness. Because, as I mentioned, this is not your traditional rhythm arcade game. Traditional pathways through townships and narrow alleyways where dodging buses and walls are your priority give way to hearts suspended in space where you'll spiral through the stars, pirouette across cosmic chasms and still find yourself looking for the line of hearts that serve as your vague guide. 

There's a surprising subtlety in the movement, not limiting you to moving from set lanes, but allowing you to (hopefully) majestically move across the planes gathering hearts and avoiding obstacles at all costs. Occasionally you'll have to hit musically synced quick time events for a sword fight or to leap atop the back of a deer, or even a plethora in quick succession for a dance battle – there's so much going on thematically that you'll just have to play it to experience just how wide the spectrum goes. 

(Image credit: Annapurna)

"Something that really stands out is the vast array of video game references"

But something that really stands out is the vast array of video game references. Nods to Luminez and Rez make way for Space Invaders and Jet Set Radio. Heck, there's even a point where you're racing across the visor of a VR headset. This is as much an ode to the gaming industry and its history as it is to our emotions, and our lust for love.

And of course, because this is a game, there are high scores to get, rankings to obtain between bronze and gold, and mastering each level becomes a dance routine that you must learn to really succeed. After all, no-one is really happy with a bronze rank, are they?

Sayonara Wild Hearts is a rare thing. Beautifully crafted in every way, with music, visuals and gameplay combined to create an intoxicating loop that seeps into your eyes, ears and veins in a way that will have you replaying each level over and over just for the thrill of it – and possibly a gold rank. The moments where you really get into the rhythm and flow produce a gameplay experience that's akin to euphoria; that kind of synesthesia that causes your heart to pound and soul to soar. A masterpiece of sight and sound. 

Sayonara Wild Hearts is available on Nintendo Switch and PS4, and it's also one of the best Apple Arcade games.