Wattam asks you to play as a green, block-shaped mayor with a mustache on his upper lip and a bomb under his bowler hat. When you doff the cap, the bomb explodes, launching you and anyone nearby up into the air with a green smoke trail. All affected erupt in fits of giggles.
In Wattam, you can also be a tree, sucking your friends up Kirby-style and transforming them into fruit (and meat?) which then falls from your blocky branches. Or you can be a disembodied mouth, gobbling your pals up to turn them into swirling poop emojis. You can also be a toilet, sending those same poops (and everyone else) down your bowl — a process that coats them in gold plating.
Wattam is colorful, joyous, and delightfully goofy. I encountered some minor annoyances during my two-and-a-half hours with it, but Funomena’s latest project mostly gave me the same feeling as when I play with my adorable nieces. It feels genuinely childlike and never becomes cloying or saccharine, despite its lovely sweetness.
It’s worth noting the obvious at this point: this new game, directed by Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi, is weird. It’s a weirdo. It doesn’t fit in and doesn’t want to. Have you ever seen the mayor without his ridiculous hat? That’s weird. Weirdness acknowledged, Wattam’s world does always follow a certain logic of its own. Every action has consequences. Sometimes they play out in silly ways; ou become an acorn, plant yourself, and switch perspectives to become the acorn’s pals. They form a circle and dance around the nut until it grows into a tree. Goofy actions lead to goofy consequences. But sometimes Wattam’s actions have surprisingly serious consequences. The opening cinematic gestures at a darkly powerful being destroying the Earth and scattering its inhabitants to the four winds.
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The game actually begins with your lonely mayor sitting by himself on a barren, floating island. All is dark, except for a spotlight that follows your movements. Then a rock appears. Catch it! Hold its hand! Be its friend! Once you’ve introduced yourself to your new, igneous pal, you can swap to its point of view.
As Wattam progresses, you make dozens of new friends. Witch each new buddy comes another new perspective. And you can swap between each of them to accomplish news tasks. Not all of them have unique abilities, like the tree or the mouth. But each new friend comes with new music — new variations on the same core melody. At one point I met a jumping boulder who caused cymbal crashes whenever he fell to the ground. In these moments, Wattam’s soundtrack actually reminds me of the equally stylish, but more violent indie, Ape Out. Both games have dynamic scores. But here, in addition to music that reacts to your actions, Wattam also uses its accompaniment to highlight the variety of its slowly expanding society.
While we’re on the topic, there’s a major difference between these two very different indie games. Ape Out is about destroying those who wronged you. Wattam is about rebuilding. To that end, the game’s main mechanic is holding hands, with right and left mitts mapped to the X and B buttons on an Xbox controller. You can form long lines, group up in a circle, or just spin one of your pals around and around. As you do, you swap between an ever-expanding cast of characters, positioning them in place and using any unique abilities they have to accomplish light puzzles.
One Small, Short Problem
You use the right stick to move between characters. As the game progresses, and the world expands, you can thankfully select whatever character you need from an easy-to-use directory. This works pretty well, but unfortunately means camera movement is mapped to the triggers. I think I was in high school the last time I played a game with a similar control scheme. Needless to say, it took some getting used to here.
The problem is that Wattam is pretty short. You’ll likely wrap things up before the controls ever feel totally natural. Generally, this layout just makes it harder to follow your character than necessary. Zooming in and out with the bumpers works slightly better, but never feels great, either. Sometimes it even makes it difficult to keep up with character movements. Getting your characters to link together can also be difficult. Sometimes they’ll inexplicably lean away from whatever friend you’re trying to get them to hold hands with. That can result in the happy ideal being, at times, clunky in execution.
There’s also no quest log. That, too, is generally fine, since you never have more than one objective at a time. There’s even usually a pictorial hint at the top of the screen, accompanied by a word or short phrase. Plus each new objective gets introduced with a short cinematic to point you in the right direction. But if you get distracted while playing around in the world, and forget what you’re supposed to do, there’s no way to remind yourself without quitting and starting again. At one point in my playthrough, this problem was exacerbated by a painful bug. I was in the right spot, so the game said, but the next step didn’t trigger until I quit the game and restarted.
Weird Is Only Part of the Story
That said, Wattam runs and controls well enough to excel at what it does best: being an exceptionally gonzo screenshot-generator. On my hard drive, I have a picture of a golden poop climbing up a giant pair of lips. I took another of a giant rubber duck watching a squid scale a palm tree. My personal favorite is one pic of a bunch of poops pleading that I “Kaboom!” with them.
Back in 2004, Katamari Damacy let players experience weirdness alone. In the age of the Share button, Wattam players can foist their surreal misadventures on all their Twitter followers. This is a genuinely funny game, and while much of the hilarity is authored (I especially enjoyed one character’s surprising late-game transformation into a hard-boiled detective) at least as much humor can arise from a dedicated player poking and prodding at the game with its giant cast of characters. At times it feels like playing around with a chemistry set. Except it can only produce fun and harmless explosions.
Either that resonates with you or it doesn’t! There’s plenty here to charm receptive players. Not to mention the story — which emphasizes a resolute kind of forgiveness that accepts a repentant person without minimizing the harm caused — is impressively nuanced and necessary, despite the cartoonish broad strokes. Wattam is one cute indie in a sea of cute indies. It easily could have felt irrelevant in that environment. Instead, it manages to feel unique and vital. And, yes of course, it’s weird.