Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC
Keita Takahashi has made a career out of creating fun, magical, toy-like games. In a medium where leaderboards, competition, achievement-hunting, and end goals are massively important factors on a per-game basis, Takahashi has managed to subvert gameplay and mechanical norms to create works that are predominantly about fun and enjoyment.
Wattam, the latest game from Takahashi and the jovial folks at Funomena, is all about making magic through experimentation with a focus on character emotions. It's weird, no doubt, but it's weird in a good way, and it is very much rooted in a games-as-toys idea that plays out incredibly well.
Games as toys
In a way, Takahashi seems like Nintendo's long-lost child. Ultra-popular franchises like Mario, Kirby, Yoshi and, to a degree, Donkey Kong all feature charming, inviting, warm characters, and they mesh those characters with gameplay mechanics that make these games easy to pick up and play. When you think about it, just looking at these characters in a screenshot gives off toy commercial vibes. Takahashi's projects follow a very similar pattern of introducing cute, family-friendly characters and mechanics that just pull players in.
With the exception of Kirby, though, as inviting and encouraging as Nintendo's franchises may be, they pose bigger, often old school challenges that rely on tricky platforming and clever trap placement. These games suck you in, and once you're invested, they give you a good challenge. For what it's worth, those games are all the better for the ways in which they do the things they do.
Keita Takahashi's games, however, are much different, and the developer seems to have a very unique mission statement from Nintendo's — a similar mission statement, but a different one altogether: to create games that defy traditional “rules” with a focus on play. As such, his games are all the better for doing what they do the way they do it.
Katamari Damacy had you rolling a big ball of junk around a world and collecting more stuff like cars, trees, and sumo wrestlers to make that ball of junk even bigger. Even after Takahashi stopped working on the series after completing the second installment, We Love Katamari, the franchise lived on and carried the spirit of the original, never evolving too much and always being about the pure fun factor.
Noby Noby Boy was probably Takahashi's most offbeat game — a feat if there ever was one considering just how eccentric the developer's projects often are. In Noby Noby Boy, you controlled a worm-like kid around the game world, growing to insane lengths.
The short-lived Glitch was an MMO where the main objective was to spread joy and work together with other folks to complete tasks. This was the only MMO I ever really got into. It was silly and bizarre, and it was a breath of fresh air. Rather than focus on combat, Glitch was all about players talking to each other and crafting household items together. It was super casual and it was just a jolly time.
Now we have Wattam, possibly the least game-y but easily the most toy-like of the bunch. It's not going to win over everyone, but for folks who appreciate weird and wacky games that are totally not traditional, there's a beautiful charm to be found in Wattam.
What is Wattam? Ummm...
Trying to describe Wattam is something that it's nearly impossible to put into words. Like, I could totally try my best to describe the game — and for the purpose of this review, I will do exactly that — but even then, you'll probably be left with a bunch of questions. So with that said, here goes...
Wattam is a friendship simulator. Wattam is also an ordinary life simulator. Also, Wattam is a fantasy land simulator. Wattam is definitely an emotion simulator, too. Oh, and Wattam is a game where you can make a character eat another character, poop him out, and then you can take a character who's a toilet, flush the freshly-made poop character, and turn him into a golden poop. Also, there are explosions that make the characters giggle with joy. Also, there's a tree that can eat a rock and turn it into an apple. Also, this game is absolutely nuts!
In case you're wondering if anything I described just now is actually true, I am 100 percent dead serious. Those are all things that happen in Wattam. As a matter of fact, the aforementioned events all unfold in the game's first hour! After that you're introduced to new characters like a huge table, you're invited to solve simple puzzles to expand the world and population, and you're encouraged to go ka-boom for the amusement of the rest of the characters.
Okay, I get that it seems like I'm rambling, and this is hardly a conventional review. But you have to understand: Wattam is hardly a conventional game, but rather a big virtual toy. In the past, I, along with plenty other reviewers, have referred to games as “experiences.” That term holds a degree of truth, as everything is technically an experience — but Wattam, oh, Wattam! Now that is an experience, and a wild one, too!
Seriously, though, what is Wattam? Pure joy, that's what!
Wattam is a game about characters socializing with one another in odd ways. Quite fittingly, the game includes a co-op mode, so if you want to bring a friend or family member into the fold, you're absolutely welcome to. Just make sure you bring along someone who isn't jaded and digs alternative games. Ideally, your best bet would be to play Wattam with a younger sibling, cousin, niece, nephew, daughter, or son. I wish I would've had Wattam when my nephew was three or four years old, because he would've dug the heck out of it.
In terms of its presentation, Wattam is right in line with Takahashi's previous endeavors. The game is colorful, surreal, cartoon-like, and endearing. You can't help but want to jump into the world yourself and hug a giant poop — or something to that degree of enthusiasm.
The game's music is very Katamari-like, with upbeat, jazzy tunes playing along as you create a tower of characters. Seriously, you can make characters climb on top of one another to create a big, wobbly formation of rocks, acorns, poops, forks, and more poops. There's a lot of poop in this game.
But it's poop that walks and talks! And while there's no actual long-form dialogue in Wattam, the characters you meet and play as are all very vocal. They'll cheer and laugh and cry depending on what's going on, and they sound absolutely adorable.
Wattam is weird and it's happy. It's not a traditional game by any means, but that's because it was never meant to be. The team at Funomena has helped bring to life a project that's very Keita Takahashi. You probably won't play it for hours on end, but if you're in need of something lighthearted, if you maybe need a little emotional pick-me-up, or if you're looking for the perfect game to play with a younger family member, Wattam should be at the top of your list.