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Wattam Autumn walkthrough Funomena/Annapurna Interactive via Polygon

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Wattam is weird, but not wonderful

This strange game can’t get by on charm alone

Talking about Wattam is like trying to share the remnants of a lucid dream the next day. It’s a game made up of objects that shouldn’t go together, doing things that don’t make sense.

Here’s just one random snippet of gameplay: The square Mayor teaches a circle (who speaks Russian) how to use their magic hats to explode and fly around the sky, and now they are friends. This makes a giant bucket show up in the sky, festooned with cloud-shaped text that says, “Welcome back, bucket.”

This isn’t even the most unexplainable thing that happens in the game; it’s pretty much all like this. Wattam is produced by Keita Takahashi, best known for creating the flamboyantly ridiculous, yet utterly perfect, Katamari Damacy franchise, as well as the more surreal and confusing Noby Noby Boy. With that track record, I’d expect a mix of cute characters and logic-defying play in trippy packaging.

But I can still — and have, recently — replay a game like We Love Katamari and have a good time. It blended its strange logic with challenge and an effective gameplay loop; you weren’t sure why you were rolling up all the stuff in the world, but doing so was always fun, and your actions tied into the game’s themes in a way that made everything feel a little more meaningful.

Wattam never manages to pull off the same trick.

It’s a confusing layer cake of surreal objectives, obstinate controls, technical issues, and an overall message that doesn’t deliver any kind of payoff but makes the rest worth it on a narrative level. There is a point where the novelty of a game about holding hands, spinning in circles, and making new friends wears off, and after that point I was stuck listening to a discordant soundtrack of children laughing and characters making poopy noises. Poop is funny, mind you, but it can be overused. Wattam goes far past overuse in the first hour or so, and then keeps going.

You start Wattam as a square character with a bowler hat and mustache, known simply as Mayor. He’s lonely, and much of his journey is to fill the now-empty void back up with things. It starts simply: A rock appears, and you must giddily chase the rock across a mostly dark field, controlling Mayor over the shoulder. Finally, you’re close enough to grab Rock’s hand, and the world lights up little more.

Wattam Autumn walkthrough Funomena/Annapurna Interactive via Polygon

Every single item in Wattam is adorable and alive, with a simplified cartoon face and human name. Vyocheslav is a bottle cap. Michael is a giant nose with arms and legs. Vikram is a smaller rock. You can take control of any object at any point to make them climb, hold hands, chase each other, or do some item-specific action, like taking control of a fan in order to turn it on.

While these items are simple, your objectives with each one get a little more unhinged as the game progresses. Hold hands and spin in a circle to make an acorn grow into a tree. Let the tree eat one of your cute animated friends to turn them into a fruit. Let the giant mouth — which is also a creature — eat that friend and turn it into a turd. Flush that turd down the toilet and it becomes gold-plated. (???) Use a desk fan to spin an island to make sushi pop out.

These simple goals made up Wattam’s plot, as I started with one character and ended up with dozens, some as large as islands. Some objectives would repeat in new locations, while others would feel like random left turns away from what I assumed to be my goal. For example: At one point, Mayor has to track down all the missing salmon roe children for their mom, the sushi roll, so a tree can eat them.

But why? It’s random, but not always fun. I often found myself fighting with unintuitive, cumbersome controls. Why would a game not map the camera to the right stick, in 2019? Doing so may have a point, but that point was opaque to me, so the decision became annoying instead of enlightening.

Wattam Spring walkthrough Funomena/Annapurna Interactive via Polygon

The right stick does control the giant red character selection arrow, so when I’d use the right stick out of habit to adjust my view, I’d end up swapping out who I was controlling. Camera rotation is actually mapped to the triggers, while zooming in and out is mapped to the bumpers, and I constantly fought confusion as I tried to remember which was which. It never felt natural, mirroring some of the odder control decisions of — and this is admittedly another surreal connection to make — Red Dead Redemption 2.

Wattam’s favored objective involves getting characters to hold hands and make a circle. I’d control one character at a time, linking their hands over and over by hitting square for the left hand and circle for the right. It felt like busywork.

Sometimes characters would twist around after I’d linked them up, or the end of the chain would wander away, and I’d have to waggle over to the straggler with my selection arrow and bring them back in line.

Making each character behave like a joyful yet scatterbrained 5-year-old may have been deliberate, but again, it just felt annoying, or distracting. Characters might depart on their own massive journeys to other islands of the world if left to their own devices; no one seemed very interested in staying on task, and I didn’t really blame them. I wasn’t having a good time, either.

To give you some sense of what it feels like to play Wattam, I once became frustrated at losing the number 3 after it wandered away from a snow-covered island in an attempt to get a house to stop crying.

The strange stability issues only made things worse, as the game would crash when I tried to make four friends spin in a circle. The inconsistent frame rate when interacting with multiple characters made the rest of the control issues even worse.

I finished Wattam in a few hours — it’s not a long game — but I could only bring myself to play in chunks due to the many oddities and small indignities it foists on the player. I kept hoping for something to anchor the whole experience to some kind of message or resonant detail that would bring the rest of my pain into focus. But after finishing the game and writing this review, I’m still waiting.

Wattam is now available for PlayStation 4 and Windows PC. The game was reviewed on PS4 using a download code provided by Annapurna Interactive. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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