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Games of the Year 2019: Sayonara Wild Hearts is the feelgood classic of the year

Pop art. 

Over the festive break we’ll be running through our top 20 picks of the year’s best games, leading up to the reveal of Eurogamer’s game of the year on New Year’s Eve. You can find all the pieces published to date here – and thanks for joining us throughout the year!

When’s a video game not a video game? Maybe when, like Sayonara Wild Hearts, it’s doing its very best to be the best pop album of 2019; it’s just over 60 minutes of sonic sweetness, a collection of songs and skits that pulse with luminescence. The thing is, though, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a pop album that’s absolutely in love with video games, and absolutely delighted to be a video game itself. It’s a rush of references, some more explicit than others: there are traces of Rhythm Tengoku, Ouendan, F-Zero, OutRun, Hang On, Space Harrier, Return of the Jedi, TxK, WarioWare, Sin & Punishment, Killer7 and plenty more besides.

You’d think that, amidst that lot, Sayonara Wild Hearts might struggle to find its own identity, but struggle it does not. It’s an exquisite tale that unfolds across a grounded cityscape that’s torn asunder by flights of fancy, where teddy girls course through the night on motorbikes and face off against each other with fantastical swords, and where urban streets give way to twisting tunnels told in phosphorous vector-like lines.

You might say there’s been nothing like it before, but that’s not quite true – there’s a strong resemblance to Rez, though with the minimalist techno swapped out for sugary sweet pop, Sayonara Wild Hearts has… Well, it has more heart. A broken one, at first, but one that soars and sings until by the end it becomes thrillingly whole.

The songs help, with sticky melodies and uplifting harmonies. There’s a smorgasbord of styles plundered by composer Daniel Olsén, and a couple of stand-out anthems. Begin Again and Mine, two pulsing electropop beauties that, like the best pop music, are carried by an uplifting melancholy as much as they are by their own rhythm. Like the best pop music, they’re tracks I’ve been returning to again and again and again. And like the best pop music, you can always rely on Sayonara Wild Hearts to make your heart soar. Time for another spin, I think.

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