Wattam, a game by indie developer Funomena, is a little hard to describe. In fact, when playing the game during an event last week, Funomena co-founder Robin Hunicke, previously of thatgamecompany, asked members of the media who played it how they'd describe the game. What genre, if any, could you apply to Wattam? Personally, I'd call it a friend puzzle game, but in an experience in which unlocking a gold poop and playing a 90-minute soccer match are all part of the fun, potential confusion about Wattam is understandable.
The basics are these: Wattam is the latest creation of artist and game developer Keita Takahashi, who's best known for making Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy. It's a PlayStation 4 exclusive. Holding hands is a big part of the experience. You can play as both a regular poop and a solid gold poop.
My Wattam experience started off with me controlling a character named the Mayor, a green cube with rounded edges and a bowler hat. I climbed a tree and held hands with a cloud. Taking control of that cloud, I rained droplets down upon some flower buds, which brought forth some flowery friends I could control. Takahashi, who sat next to me during my playthrough, encouraged me to get all those characters together, link their hands and assume control of the Mayor. He has a little bomb under his cap, I found out, and blowing up that bomb introduced new friends.
Learning how these friends interact and what particular skills they have — a toilet friend can "flush," a coffee bean can "buzz," a turntable can "party" — is where the fun experimentation of Wattam comes in. It's a small but repeatable pleasure to make the turntable go nuts by pressing the party button, causing strobe lights and dance music (complete with totally obnoxious and delightful air horns!) to overtake the game. Hunicke, who was watching a stream of people play the game and must have done so dozens of times, punctuated the room with sharp, genuine-sounding laughs when things like this happened on screen. It's a laugh-out-loud game, stuffed with silly characters of Takahashi's design, adorable little animations and charming musical cues. Everything about Wattam feels good.
What we played of Wattam was the game's spring stage. Hunicke said the game's levels are season-based, and the extra platforms we could summon as new friends to build out the level had themes of their own. One was about food, another was a bed and featured a playable pillow who put everyone he touched to sleep (except for the coffee beans, of course). Another was a soccer pitch, a segment of the game that, I believe, perfectly punctuates the weird playfulness of Wattam.
When the soccer platform shows up, you've got a stage full of friends: anthropomorphic cartoon sushi, mushrooms, trees, coffee cups. They can all run around and play soccer. The moment you touch the soccer ball for the first time, you get a game clock that runs down a full 90 minutes. But the best part is that even the goal nets are sentient. You can play as them, and score goals by bouncing around and essentially hugging the ball.
There's a lot of that in Wattam: holding hands, hugs, being friends with an eclectic group of things. It's special and lovable, the kind of thing you can play with kids or grandparents, anyone who might want to see what a game is capable of when designed with pure joy as your starting point.
You can see a little of Wattam in action in the Overview video above, in which I quickly attempt to explain what Funomena is making with news editor Brian Crecente.