Wattam review: maybe a little too funny

Talking about Wattam is like trying to share the remains of a clear dream the next day. It’s a game that is made up of objects that shouldn’t match and does things that don’t make sense.

Here’s just a random snippet of the game: The square mayor teaches a circle (who speaks Russian) how to use his magic hats to explode and fly around the sky, and now they’re friends. This causes a huge bucket to appear in the sky, adorned with cloud-shaped text that says, “Welcome back, bucket.”

This is not even the most inexplicable thing that happens in the game. That’s pretty much all. Wattam is produced by Keita Takahashi, who is best known for creating the extremely ridiculous yet absolutely perfect Katamari Damacy franchise and the more surreal and confusing Noby Noby Boy. With this track record, I would expect a mix of cute characters and a logically challenging game in a trippy package.

(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbW0MJxOu_Y (/ embed)

But I can and must play a game like We Love Katamari and have a good time. It combined its strange logic with challenge and an effective gameplay loop. You weren’t sure why you rolled everything up in the world, but it was always fun, and your actions were so tied to the game themes that everything felt a little more meaningful.

Wattam never manages to do the same trick.

It’s a confusing mix of surreal goals, stubborn controls, technical issues, and an overall message that doesn’t pay off, but makes the rest worth narratively. There is a point at which the novelty of a game about holding hands, spinning in circles and making new friends wears off, and after that point I got stuck and heard an inconsistent soundtrack in which Children laughed and characters made cackling noises. Poop is funny, mind you, but it can be overused. Wattam falls far behind the overuse in the first hour and then continues.

You start Wattam as a square figure with a bowler hat and mustache, simply known as the mayor. He is lonely and much of his journey is to fill the empty gap with things again. It just starts: a stone appears, and you have to carelessly chase the stone across a largely dark field and control Mayor over your shoulder. After all, you’re close enough to take Rock’s hand and the world lights up a bit more.

Funomena / Annapurna Interactive via polygon

Every single element in Wattam is adorable and lively, with a simplified cartoon face and a human name. Vyocheslav is a bottle stopper. Michael is a huge nose with arms and legs. Vikram is a smaller rock. You can control each item at any time to make it climb, hold hands, chase each other, or perform an item-specific action, such as: B. control a fan to turn it on.

While these items are simple, your goals become a little less important with everyone as the game progresses. Hold your hands and turn in a circle so that an acorn becomes a tree. Let the tree eat one of your cute animated friends to make it fruit. Let the huge mouth – which is also a creature – eat this friend and turn him into crap. Rinse off the toilet and it turns gold. (???) Rotate an island with a table fan so that sushi pops out.

These simple goals were what made Wattam’s plot since I started with one character and ended up with dozens, some the size of islands. Some goals repeated in new locations, while others felt like random left deviations from what I thought was my goal. For example: At some point the mayor has to find all the missing salmon roe children for their mother, the sushi roll, so that a tree can eat them.

But why? It is random, but not always funny. I have often struggled with unintuitive, cumbersome controls. Why should a game not show the camera on the right stick in 2019? There may be a point, but this point was opaque to me, so the decision was annoying instead of revealing.

Funomena / Annapurna Interactive via polygon

The right stick controls the giant red character selection arrow. So if I habitually use the right stick to adjust my view, I end up swapping who I control. The camera rotation is actually mapped to the triggers, while zooming in and out is mapped to the bumpers, and I kept fighting confusion as I tried to remember which one was which. It never felt natural and mirrored some of Red Dead Redemption 2’s stranger control decisions – and admittedly, that’s another surreal connection that needs to be made.

Wattam’s preferred goal is to get the characters to hold hands and form a circle. I control one character at a time and connect my hands again and again by pressing the square for the left hand and the circle for the right hand. It felt like a lot of work.

Sometimes characters turned after I connected them, or the end of the chain wandered away and I had to wiggle my selection arrow towards the straggler and line them up again.

It might have been intentional to get every character to act like a happy but absent-minded five-year-old, but it just felt annoying or distracting. Characters could set out on their own massive trips to other islands in the world if they were left to their own devices; nobody seemed very interested in staying at work, and I didn’t really blame them. I also didn’t have a good time.

To give you a feel for what it feels like to play Wattam, I was once frustrated at losing number 3 after wandering off a snowy island to make a house cry.

The weird stability issues only made things worse as the game would crash if I tried to get four friends to spin in a circle. The inconsistent frame rate when interacting with multiple characters exacerbated the remaining control problems.

I finished Wattam in a few hours – it’s not a long game – but I could only bring myself to play in pieces because it imposes a lot of oddities and small indignities on the player. I kept hoping for something that would anchor the whole experience in some kind of message or resonant detail that would focus on the rest of my pain. But after I finish the game and write this review, I’m still waiting.

Wattam is now available for PlayStation 4 and Windows PC. The game was tested on PS4 with a download code from Annapurna Interactive. More information on Polygon’s Ethics Policy can be found here.

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