12 things to love about Wattam

12 things to love about Wattam


I’ve heard it been said that auteur
directors are always making and remaking the same movie, and I think the same can
be said about Keita Takahashi. He’s the game designer behind Katamari Damacy,
Nobi Nobi Boy, and Wattam. I’m a big fan of Katamari Damacy, and I’m really
enjoying Wattam. But it’s really hard to explain why because it’s so weird, and
games are so much about the experience of playing them anyway. That’s hard to
get across in a review because they have to be so broad and comprehensive, and I
really want to talk about some specific weird stuff in this game that I’m
enjoying. So although I certainly could look at the whole forest, I actually want
to talk about some specific trees. Twelve specific trees. [drumroll] [slow jazzy song with two voices sing “la la la la la~”] Get ready to get funky, because the music
absolutely slaps. The jazzy swingy samba beats from Katamari are back and they
are as fresh-picked as ever. About a minute into the game we are treated to
this cut: [upbeat jazzy piano song with a solo low voice singing la la la~] This is like the emotional equivalent of when you eat something
really sour, and you get those tingly feelings all over your jaw. It’s just so
good! And not only are the tracks pure bops, but— [onion sounds like a trumpet] [tiny rock sounds like a piccolo]
[nose sounds like a saxophone] -it has a dynamic soundtrack!
When you switch between characters, the instrumental track also switches. [fork sounds like digital piano]
[tree sounds like a guitar] [apple sounds like a xylophone]
[Mayor sounds like a mandolin] It took me a few minutes to realize this because it is so seamless, but once I did, I found
myself gravitating to certain characters just because I liked their beats more. I love nose.
[funky squeaky saxophone song] It made me so curious what Katamari would have been like if it had
had a dynamic soundtrack. Where like, depending on what things you
pick up, the tone changes. Like picking up cars gave you a strong brass
[pretty good impression of a synthesizer] and matches provided like a sassy bassline
[really solid bass impression] [opening rift to Paul Simon’s “You Can Call me Al”] [laughter] It’s a real missed opportunity. The font is also childish and bubbly and extremely readable, like the font in one of my
favorite puzzle games ever, Baba is You. It’s not Comic Sans, but it’s like Comic
Sans adjacent, and Comic Sans gets a bad rap anyway because it’s… a perfectly
readable font! It’s got a purpose, and that purpose is Wattam. A joyful font for a joyful game! Then there’s the header titles, which gave me a vibe kind of like the descriptions from Donut County. They’re short bursts of personality and energy, even the ones that sound like a monster from a cosmic
horror story. And the big titles that pop up when some new friends arrive are like
the opposite of a “wish you were here” postcard. Welcome back ducky floaty! Katamari Damacy was about a lonely figure, surrounded by things. Wattam is
similar except that those things all have cute little faces and they make
sweet little baby noises. Little rock: boogy boogy boogy! Is Keita Takahashi lonely, or does he
just lament a world in which we love possessions and reject the company of
others? Is personifying these objects a way of bridging that gap and reminding
people of the joy of playing with other people? Either way, Takahashi-san: pen pal ni natte kudasai? It’s not that the story in Wattam is obscure, it’s just that comparing Wattam’s story to any other
games story is like comparing a smiley face to a Frida Kahlo self-portrait. It’s
the most simplified version of a story, it’s like the Joseph Campbell ur-text.
Wattam understands that its story is secondary to the gameplay, so it doesn’t
really yammer on about it, and I appreciate a game that doesn’t waste my time. I struggled with what to call this color scheme, which will look familiar to
Katamari fans. It’s the sort of warm vibrant neon pastel jewel-tone. It’s the
palette of summer. It’s like the color of blowing a big bubblegum bubble. I’ve mostly settled on “candy-like” because the shape and color and loose animation remind me of a big bowl of mixed gummies you’d serve at a party in 7th grade. Part of this is the matte finish on everything. I said real time ray tracing
9,000 times in videos this year, and I’m gonna say at 9000 times next year,
because it is exciting that shininess is being upgraded in the next generation.
But everything in Wattam has a matte finish, and boy is that nice to look at.
It’s very soothing, like a cool cotton cloth draped across the eyes. Aside from the color and gameplay style and music, part of why this game feels contemporary
to Katamari Damacy is because of this specific rotary phone. In a 2019 game! An
early mission is to retrieve its handset from the Sun, who wanted to call the
bowling alley. Maybe there are some smartphone characters later in the game, but I highly doubt it, because Takahashi is trying to capture the feeling of
being young and playing with toys, and he didn’t have a smartphone toy as a kid so
why should you? A lot of the characters have special powers, like the mouth that
turns things into poop, of the toiler that turns poop into other poop. Sometimes you need to use specific characters to complete puzzles, but
mostly you can be whoever. I like the tree characters because they’re just the
Whispy Woods from Kirby. Walking up to each character and saying “hi!” sets off a
burst of adorable sounds that feel very
interactive. It’s like when you’re in a game waiting room, and you emote and then everybody else emotes in response. It’s just good pure wholesome fun. I’m also playing the anti Wattam right now: Dark Souls. And both of these games ask you to
sort of goof around with their controls until you understand each game’s
internal logic. And whereas Dark Souls will punish you for experimenting in a
way that makes you shrug and go “Oh, Dark Souls!” Wattam rewards you each time you say “well… but wait, what happens if I try to eat the mouth…?” I’m a big fan of experimentation as a form of play, because it reflects the ways I most
enjoy learning, and I really enjoy learning! So this is like a Jenna-specific form of gamification and it really hits my buttons. If you want to know what it’s like to play Wattam, stand up and bend at the hips like
you’re gonna touch your toes, but just dangle. Let your head and your shoulders
and your arms go limp, and just stay like that until your whole body feels more
relaxed. [yelling from far away] This is what Wattam is like! It’s loose, its limber, and it’s very forgiving because the purpose is fun and experimentation Low stakes? No! No stakes! [drumroll] [explosion and laughter!] All of that said, the game is so
flavorful it can be hard to take for more than like an hour at a time.
It’s like saccharine motion sickness. But it is an antidote to seasonal affective
disorder. It’s like a vitamin B shot in the form of a game, and if you liked
Katamari Damacy, I think you’re gonna like Wattam too. WATTAM! [jazzy swingy background music]