I find that making friends as an adult is impossible. You don't have the closed environment of school to get you talking to people, and unless you make friends with your coworkers, you're stuck with the people you meet on apps or those friends you made long ago. I moved to Los Angeles a few years ago and still haven't made proper friends.
Wattam, the new game from Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi and Funomena (around six years in the making), dials this idea down to its purest and easiest-to-understand form. Sure the adorable creatures that inhabit the game's world seem more like children than adults, but the relationships are immediate between all of them. The Mayor, the green block in a bowler hat at the center of the game, is mourning their loneliness all alone. All of a sudden, they're not, and soon they're surrounded by others that have come to this world and are looking for fun. It makes the whole idea of making friends, connecting with others, or finding joy in dark places seem easy.
You'd think this wouldn't be that fulfilling for an adult, but Wattam manages to share its message of connection in a way that still makes sense. The game will still be more appealing to younger players who will get a lot of joy out of the bright colors and the constant screaming of children, but adults will find something hopeful in its simplistic nature. Wattam isn't a perfect game, but it has a purpose: to show people that connections made are the most important way to bring joy to the world, and it does that wonderfully.
At a glance
Bottom line: Wattam is a beautiful and loud game with a quiet center that works for players of all ages. It's a game about joy and friendship, which a lot of us could use these days. It's a shame that the message is bogged down by some truly awful controls and optimization problems.
- Bright, colorful style
- Great message
- Surprising story
- Straightforward gameplay
- Short and to the point
- Gameplay might be too easy for some
- Awful controls
- Frame rate drops
Wattam What I liked
Wattam is like its predecessor Katamari Damacy in a lot of ways. The goal at the heart of Katamari was more sinister and dark — remember how your dad, the King of the Cosmos, just destroyed all the planets in a drunken stupor and berated you as you tried to fix it? However, the focus was on everything else: the charming music, the colorful worlds, the addictive and intuitive gameplay, and quirky humor. Everything was just slightly off in Katamari, which made it so appealing and memorable.
Even though it had this screwed up story at its center, Katamari was still a game about joy. Rolling up everybody and everything in the universe was meditative, in its own weird way, so you wanted to keep playing, but that also helped its central message to land.
Wattam can be loud and annoying, but it's in the moments where the game manages to be quiet that it's at its most special.
Wattam is similar in some respects. The game is just as colorful and as intricately designed in its simplicity, meaning that the basic designs of the characters and the world aren't detailed. Still, all come together to paint something that looks like a children's picture book. Some of the humor is also there. While the writing is more childlike in nature — there's a recurring quest that involves feeding fruit friends to a giant mouth, who is also a friend, to turn them into poop so you can then make golden poop — but there are a few more clever jokes and bits to round it out. I especially liked one segment where a book named Harley gets overwhelmed by their friends, who are so excited to them. Harley gets angry, but the friends apologize, and it ends up being a happy moment. The touch there to have a creature react from having too much attention added complexity to a game that's generally static when it comes to the interactions.
There's a lot going on here. Sure the basic gameplay is simple — make friends, complete quests so that everybody's happy, travel to new lands and make more friends — but the characters you meet seem to have their own lives. Once you make friends, you can click and control any character you want. Some characters are essential for specific quests. For example, The Mayor, along with the other Mayors you meet, has a magic hat that lets you set off a bomb that goes "kaboom," which brings a lot of the other characters joy. Otherwise, you can control anybody. Even if you don't, you'll see them wandering in the background, maybe joining hands with other characters or traveling to other areas of the map on their own. It helps the player focus and brings more life to the world Wattam is building.
Along the way, you have to complete quests and solve puzzles that will help get everybody laughing. These do get repetitive after a couple of hours, and none of them are too complicated to solve, but they get the game moving. Wattam doesn't want you stuck on puzzles so that it will give you glaringly obvious hints. This can be a disappointment for people who want a more challenging experience, but the game is meant to keep you moving and interacting. Having to repeat quests took some fun out of it after a while, but it introduces enough new elements along the way to keep a lot of players entertained.
Most surprising of all, however, is that Wattam has a somber narrative lying underneath all the joy. You see, something has caused this world to grow dark. It takes a while for the game to unravel this for you, and I'm not going to spoil it here, but it's a story that feels real, helps to ground its more flamboyant aspects, and makes the game more than just a loud and bright distraction. You can make parallels to what's going on in our world easily, and soon the game isn't just about fixing the loneliness of that first green square. It's about fixing everything.
Laughter is universal.
I'm reminded of Death Stranding — hear me out! — another game that came out this year that's about the connections between people. Oddly, this colorful, childlike game where you turn fruit into poop or help a giant doll find its missing parts is one of its closest counterparts.
It's the connection aspect that's at the core of Wattam, and that message becomes obvious in certain sequences. Over time, as you build up your first world, others will join you (a hole in the sky opens, and they just come swimming through). However, at a certain point, you start meeting characters that speak other languages; the first character you meet speaks what I believe is Russian. There's a moment where the two Mayors stare blankly at each other, trying to understand, but there's one thing that can bring them together: joy. The Mayors each let off their magical bombs and laugh, and soon, the language barrier doesn't matter. Laughter is universal.
Wattam can be loud, and with a lot of the creatures sounding like children, the constant screaming and crying can be annoying. However, it's in these moments where the game manages to be quiet that are its most special.
Wattam What I didn't like
Wattam is available for PC, but I played it on PlayStation 4 and, as such, was hit with its dreadful control scheme. It's unintuitive: you use the right joystick to switch between the characters you want to control and use the L2 and R2 buttons to spin the camera instead of the other way around like it is with every other game. There were many times where this change caused me to switch away from a character I needed to use or caused me to slow down as I figured out which buttons I needed. This also becomes a problem once your world fills up with characters. Trying to switch between them to get to the one you want can be time-consuming. There is a menu you can pull up so you can immediately jump to one, but the game doesn't tell you about it until late in the game.
There's a message at the core of Wattam that should be experienced by players of all ages.
One of the most basic mechanics — holding hands — can then feel clunky. You use the square and circle buttons to control the hands of each character so they can reach out and grab another's hand. This sounds easy on paper, but sometimes you don't grab the hand you want, or the characters will get tangled up, which can make forming something like a circle between five characters difficult.
This became a massive problem for me during one quest, where I had to find the children of a piece of sushi. There are six in total, and I had to create a daisy chain of hand-holding to keep them in tow. However, the chain became so unwieldy that the babies ended up falling off the side of the map or just running off and getting lost. I was able to complete the quest since I did, in fact, collect all six, and you can't die by falling off the side. However, the dread I felt seeing those children fall was horrible and wasn't helped by the wonky controls.
Problems with the game itself also didn't help the experience. I saw a lot of frame rate drops, either during animation-heavy sections or just whenever. There didn't seem to be a consistent reason for them. I had frame rate drops towards the beginning of the game when fewer assets were running across the screen and towards the end when I had all the friends. Some drops would even cause the game to freeze for a few seconds. I haven't experienced any crashes, thankfully, but I've seen a couple of instances from reviewers whose games did crash.
Wattam has a lot of flaws, especially in execution. The game itself, from the awful controls to the optimization issues, needs some work. The characters can be annoying, and the interactions can be repetitive. While the game is short — just a few hours long — that monotony can cause it to drag.
This is a shame because what works here is magical. There's a message at the core of Wattam that should be experienced by players of all ages, and its ability to balance that narrative with the extremely bright and loud exterior is its greatest strength. A few games this year have taken the time to emphasize how great the connections can be between people, and how they can be a source of power in times of sadness, but Wattam stands out as one that also adds the element of joy and simplicity. Yes, sometimes all of that can be obnoxious, but it was worth the reminder even when you're feeling lonely.
Bright and loud
Like the pages from a children's book
Wattam is a beautiful and loud game with a quiet center that works for players of all ages. It's a game about joy and friendship, which a lot of us could use these days. It's a shame that the message is bogged down by some truly awful controls and optimization problems.