In Wattam, the new game from Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy creator Keita Takahashi, you control shapes, objects, plants and celestial beings. You hold hands and spin in circles. You plant seeds and sail across skies. You bring life back to places it long ago left, and lift your hat to explode into the air, trailing coloured smoke as you go. You welcome the return of summer, of pumpkin, of toilet. It is a game where tears create seas and the chatter of children fills your speakers. It’s a game unlike any other I’ve played in 2019, and I sort of love it.
I sort of love it, because it’s not really a game that you can take in a single sitting – even though it’s only likely to fill three hours of your time. It’s so intense with its glee, with its whimsical music and beaming smiles and outre situations, that you might well need a break or two.
Case in point: the sun steals a telephone’s receiver to book a lane at the local bowling alley, and you, as a golden poop, have to cling onto a balloon that’s scared of heights to retrieve it. There’s only so much of that sweetness you can take in one go.
Initially, you’re a green cube, the Mayor. The Mayor is all alone until he meets a rock – and the rock, like the Mayor, has enough of a face to smile, to talk, to cry. The two become fast friends, until an even bigger rock comes along – and then they’re all friends, together. The Mayor has a hat, and under this hat is a small present which kabooms, sending all in the blast radius flying all over, laughing hysterically.
Gradually, the landmass you’re on is joined by another, and another – a table, a duck, a yacht, a toilet. And these landmasses, like every character on them, can be controlled. (We’re talking noses, eyeballs, cameras, trees, cutlery, acorns, fruit, lips, desk fans, crowns – and do, please, be sure to read their bios in the pause menu.)
Once you get used to the controls, that is. The right stick sends a giant red arrow to the nearest character, and it’s this thing that you then steer around with the left stick. Triggers spin the camera, shoulder buttons zoom in and out of the colourful slapstick action. Cross jumps, triangle booms, while square and circle let you hold hands. That’s it, that’s their function. Hand holding.
It takes ten minutes to click with Wattam‘s unusual control scheme, but once you do you’ll be kabooming and climbing and clasping palms with ease. And if you don’t? Just keep playing. It’ll come, trust me. You will stop flicking the right stick to move the camera.
And the point of all this? Well, there is a story to Wattam, and it’s both basic and epic, and to talk about it here is to ruin it for you. It’s gently touching, actually, which you mightn’t be expecting given the oddball aesthetics on show. The game’s three hours long, less than – take a chance on it. It’s less about the destination and more the journey, anyway, as you twirl this cast of dazzling characters around on drifting islands made of bathtime toys and bathroom appliances.
Wattam is a game to put your head in the clouds for a while, to make you smile – nay, to make you beam – and perhaps invite you to have just a little think about what you’ve got and why it matters. It’s about making friends and then taking those friends to make even more friends – so, a bit like Death Stranding, but not in the slightest bit grim and borderline unplayable? There’s no peeing in Wattam, but there is plenty of poop, I guess, if you’re wanting to stretch to another (filthy) parallel.
But when it’s all said and done, all laughed and cried, Wattam really is a game apart from the pack – a clear continuation of the creative mindset of its maker, given what he’s done before now, but also quite, quite different. It follows its own playful logic, offering clear instructions and never giving into surrealness for the sake of it, and is absolutely a more meaningful experience than meets the eye.
Wattam was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using code provided by the game’s publisher, Annapurna Interactive. The game is out now for both PlayStation 4 and PC.