As games continue to feel more and more iterative, not innovative, the bizarre and indescribable Wattam stands wonderfully apart. The latest from Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi, it’s a co-op adventure about making friends. But it’s only about that in the most reductive sense: Wattam is really a celebration of joyful absurdity ... and silly explosions. (Also: poop.)
At PAX East, we played a long demo of Wattam, which has been in development for years but is promised for a 2018 launch on consoles and PC. Spending 40 minutes on a single game is rarely advised when you’re at a dense convention like PAX, but Wattam is atypical. The game begins with a single character, the mayor of an empty planet. Soon, the population grows to include a boulder — named Alice in our game — and a little rock, Ryan. The three say hi. They hold hands. They dance in circles around acorns to make them come alive. Best of all, they beg the Mayor to use his top hat as their sadistic toy, a confetti bomb that rockets off the wearer’s head in a burst of colorful smoke.
Doing what they ask makes the expanding cast of animated objects become best pals. Both the world and the friend circle continue to grow with each test of friendship; a second real-life player is allowed to join in once there are enough different inhabitants to share between the two, and both players can be any of the surprising characters they want to be. We were sentient cutlery. We were a gigantic toilet. We were a vomiting mouth. (Also: poop. Golden poop.)
It’s not always pleasantly quirky, though. While Wattam comes across as completely open-ended, it does present a few challenges. A bowling pin will approach you and ask if you could stack a few of your existing friends to match its height. Most of Wattam’s fun is contained, ironically, in its free-form structure, so when it gives you a task with specific parameters, Wattam’s whimsical nature works against itself. Wrangling a series of giggling characters quickly becomes tiring and confusing — the antithesis of “having fun and making friends.”
Wattam’s physics are generous, so characters stumble and stretch as they hold hands and run in different directions. You can even climb on top of others, perilously swaying in the air for no good reason at all. Sitting back and letting Wattam simply happen is how the game shines, much like the charming chaos in Katamari Damacy.
Nothing of this is explicable in or out of context, and at first, having more questions than answers can seem frustrating. But therein lies the beauty of Takahashi’s whole portfolio, and it’s perhaps best exemplified by Wattam: Why does it matter if there’s no story, or if your character is a walking bowling pin? If everyone’s happy, isn’t that enough?