Wattam magical experience
Wattam is a whimsical, colourful game about friendship and connections, created by Keita Takahashi, the man responsible for Katamari Damacy. In Wattam, animated objects like fruits, shapes, and appliances fill the screen as you toggle between controlling them at will, causing them to interact with each other.
There is a fork and a pencil, a beach ball, several flowers, a little coconut, a fan, a refrigerator, a treasure chest, a bottle cap. There is even a human nose with legs that lowers to the ground to sniff. The objects hold hands with each other when you press X or B buttons. If you make a closed circle of linked objects and move the left thumbstick, everyone in the circle will dance and laugh. There are hats to try on and trade. Objects can say “hi” to each other when you press the Y button and they all have a certain stickiness, making it easy to climb up each other, stacking up higher and higher just for fun.
The game blends light humour and absurdism with a refreshing lack of irony. Wattam is youthful, earnest and pure, and playing it alone or with a friend in co-op feels a bit like spending time on a full playground or in a crowded kindergarten. Pooping is a big theme and an action easily initiated (after eating) with the press of a button. An eclectic soundtrack regularly combines children’s voices with the sound of farts. It certainly won’t be for everyone but it won me over in a big way and (as annoying as those fart sounds can get) is one of the most joyful games I’ve played this year.
At the start, the only figure in sight is the Mayor, a small green block with a bowler hat. As you control him and learn how to move the camera and jump you meet a second character, a rock. The Mayor greets the rock by tipping his hat that causes a small colourful block to fall off his head, causing in turn a colourful explosion that sends the Mayor and the rock soaring into the sky followed by colourful jet trails. At first it’s only the Mayor who has this ability, which is very popular with the other objects who often clamour for him to make them go “boom” and then stagger around dizzy afterwards, vomiting colourful confetti when the player tries to move them.
Wattam doesn’t have a plot per se, but over the course of the game a central myth is uncovered. And as you play the game more and more characters arrive (there are a little over 100 in total). Very seldom is there a specific goal to achieve. Players repopulate the world through play and by making connections between the characters that come about as solutions to light puzzles that are so simple they’re more like riddles. For example, at one point a sad ice cream cone appears, crying because he has lost his ice cream. The shape of soft serve ice cream happens to be the same as the shape of the various poos that populate Wattam’s world. Climbing a poo to the top of his head easily cheers up the cone and leads to the arrival of more characters. It sounds ridiculous in description, but I found the experience of playing it to be whimsical, absurd fun.
The controls take a bit of getting used to. The trigger buttons move the camera left and right, while the bumpers zoom in and out. This is fine once you adjust to only using the right joystick to toggle between characters but is disorienting at first. When the screen is filled with gesturing, walking objects, selecting the one you want takes practice and often more than one try. The character you are in control of is signified by a large red arrow but, playing on PC, the arrow and the camera would occasionally get stuck in place while the character was able to continue walking off screen. I also found it a little frustrating how easily characters would climb each other, getting stuck together when I was only attempting to navigate them past one another.
But these technical issues were minor distractions from the bizarre sandbox atmosphere that pervades Wattam. Unlike Katamari, which played with scale and perspective and challenged players to accumulate as many objects together as possible into a large ball that was launched into outer space, Wattam offers a limited number of objects and few obvious goals aside from trying out different combinations and interactions. One of the game’s objects is a large red mouth that eats other objects when you press Y. Most objects that aren’t foods become fruits or ramen bowls when they are eaten by one of the game’s several tree characters. There is a wandering toilet that chases poops and flushes them, turning them a golden colour. When a tree eats poos they reappear, shooting out the top in their original form. It’s the circle of life made miniature and strange.
Rather than relying on puzzles or a narrative, Wattam offers a series of brief playful vignettes and creates a simple origin myth to tie it all together. The music is just as joyful, fun and unpredictable as the game itself. I’m not sure I’ve heard anything like it before. If you have children, Wattam is particularly ideal, but the bright colours and absurd humour will bring a smile to practically anyone’s face. A game that eschews that goal-oriented progress for the simple joy of simple play. Wattam is a delight.
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