Take the opportunity to explode alongside friends.
I’m still trudging my way through tar in Kojima Productions’ Death Stranding (and loving every minute), but I recently decided to give a little time to another new release: Wattam.
I originally fell in love with Funomena’s Wattam when I was covering PAX West in 2017. I had the opportunity to preview the game at that time, and although I didn’t get a chance to finish the demo (because a hat had fallen off of the map – a glitch, not a consequence of gameplay), I was still completely charmed by the concept and the sheer delight of the entire experience. Now that the full game is out, I’ve had the opportunity to refine my thoughts on the next title by Keita Takahashi, the creative mind behind Katamari Damacy.
You begin the game as the Mayor, a green cube with a top hat and four limbs. The Mayor is alone on a small, grassy island until he discovers a rock in the ground. The rock anthropomorphizes in a similar manner to the Mayor, and the two discover an exploding present beneath the Mayor’s hat that rockets them into the sky amidst confetti, colored smoke, and childlike laughter. Much of the game is like this. While recounting parts of it can feel like a bizarre fever dream, playing just feels fun as new characters (a tree, a toilet, a disembodied nose) are introduced and you take control of each to discover new ways for everyone to interact.
As becomes apparent over the course of the game, there was once a world where everyone was together and happy, but they were eventually scattered throughout the universe when an unknown invader struck. As you make friends, more “people” return so that you can hopefully reunite the entire world. It’s a rather simple plot with themes that barely rise above the cliche message to ‘value what you have before it’s gone,’ but the simplicity of the story is at least consistent with the gameplay.
My original impression of Wattam was that it was going to be a bit of a puzzle game where you’d need to try different combinations of characters to discover someone new. To a certain degree, that turned out to be the case, but in a very limited sense. For the most part, Wattam telegraphs what the player is supposed to do from beginning to end. If a seed in the ground needs the nose’s sniffing services, small pink noses will waft through the air above it. If some friends want the Mayor to blow them up, little confetti signs will appear above them. While the roster of characters eventually becomes too great for the game to omit any guidance on what to do next, it doesn’t allow the player to really experiment or do much guess work until the very end, at which point it’s still pretty obvious what you need to do next. In short, the game is incredibly easy.
Although I had played a good chunk of Wattam in 2017, I was surprised by how many cinematic sequences had since been included to illustrate events such as how happy the Mayor was to no longer be alone or how upset the telephone was to have lost its receiver. In these instances, the camera was taken and repositioned in the typical cutscene manner, which would normally be fine, but it continued happening for every little interaction. When I’d try taking control back I’d find the camera locked for a somewhat lengthy period of time so that the game could make it clear two characters were glad to be reunited or one was really mad to be missing something. These frequent interruptions were exacerbated by camera angles that cut off half of a scene because they were trying to clip through other characters parading through the world. All of this regularly took me out of what was an otherwise amusing experience.
Wattam‘s performance was also a little hit-or-miss. For a game that seems to be barely pushing the power of the PlayStation 4, blowing up a group of characters (or similarly hectic events) would cause the frame to momentarily stall. Sometimes it just felt like there were too many non-player interactions going on for the game to properly process the ones that the player was actually causing.
For all of the minor technical irritations and disappointing simplicity of Wattam, I have to admit that I still found myself smiling pretty much the entire game. Much of it feels like a title that was developed for a younger group of gamers, both in its gameplay and its plot, but its also a game where you control a tree that can eat other characters, poop them out into turds, and then flush those turds down a toilet (another character) to become golden turds that can stack on top of one another to prove to a golden bowling pin their just as tall and then become a game of cosmic bowling. All of that is a scripted chapter of the game and some sense of discovery might have made the events more enjoyable, but it was hilarious nonetheless. But I guess that just means Wattam is a game for children, even those who have grown ‘older’ but not ‘up.’
At the end of the day, I’m glad I played Wattam because it reminded me that sometimes its all right to play a game for the pure joy of it. I tend to play more dramatic titles that are more interested in their message and plot than getting me to smile. Wattam helped me to remember that sometimes its important to just have fun, and I look forward to sharing that fun with my daughter when she’s old enough to be Player Two.