Magical Girl Anime Meets Rhythm Action
But where Thumper is “rhythm violence” Sayonara Wild Hearts is more “rhythm magic.” The main character, a normal, unnamed girl who is gifted with magical powers, is just like the Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura protagonists from the “mahou shoujo” (magical girl) anime genre. Only, instead of demons, she fights magical biker gangs.
The young woman, who transforms into the masked biker “The Fool” thanks to a diamond butterfly (again, Sailor Moon fans, eat your heart out) sets out to save the universe and fight rival biker gangs: Little Death, Dancing Devils, Howling Moons, Stereo Lovers, and Hermit 64.
I’m comfortable with calling Sayonara Wild Hearts anime-inspired because of how familiar the premise is to classic magical girl anime. But, aesthetically, Sayonara Wild Hearts is its own thing. Less big-eyed anime heroes, and more hexagonal shapes and neon. Lots of neon.
Like Thumper, players will run through on-rail levels set to music and time lane switches to the beat. The more accurate you are, and the more points you successfully collect, the better your final score.
These levels are sometimes broken up with boss fights against a rival magical girl biker gang. Fights are won by timing your button presses to the rhythm, though you’re mostly dodging fireballs until the end when you wallop your opponent in a Donkey Kong Country-style button-mash.
The Soundtrack Steals The Show
The star of any rhythm game is its soundtrack, and Sayonara Wild Hearts has a certified banger from composer Daniel Olsén. Olsén crafted an original pop album for Sayonara Wild Hearts and it’s truly the star. When I came into the demo, I was expecting a sound akin to J-Pop because of the name, but the actual soundtrack sounds closer to something out of Europe, a bit of trance mixed with Carly Rae Jepsen.
The first level was actually set to Clair de Lune, the classic piano melody that’s become something of a video game staple thanks to appearances in games like The Evil Within and Forza Horizon 4. Olsén’s original pop work appears after the first level and immediately drew me into Sayonara’s wild world. The lyrics also seem to correspond with the levels and story, which adds to the immersion.
Sayonara Wild Hearts will be familiar to anyone who played Thumper as the gameplay is nearly identical (along with Audiosurf, Beat Hazard, Rock Band, etc.) The hook for newcomers and fence sitters will be the anime-inspired setting and original soundtrack.
If you’re a rhythm game fan, keep your eye on Sayonara Wild Hearts, likewise for classic anime fans. If you like both, you’re likely not going to want to miss this one.
Matt Kim is a reporter for IGN. You can reach him on Twitter.