PAX East 2018: Wattam is Pure Joyous Madness

Games are about play, and few people get that more than Keita Takahashi.  Katamari Damacy is still his best known work and featured clearly defined goals, but Noby Noby Boy had its fans too and felt like a giant playful unstructured box of toys.  Now there’s Wattam on the way, and it looks to bridge the gap between the free-form Noby Noby Boy and more goal-oriented Katamari Damacy.  It’s also cheerfully insane, because it just wouldn’t be a Keita Takahashi game otherwise.  Wattam was on display at PAX East and I probably played it a bit too long, but it’s hard to stop going when sheer whimsical happiness is beamed straight into one’s eyeballs.

The Mayor isn’t much of a Mayor at the game’s start.  He’s all alone on a small chunk of land, sad and depressed without another soul around.  Living a fulfilling life requires at least some level of companionship even for a green cube with a spiffy hat.  The Mayor walks around gloomily, sitting on the big rock that’s just about the only feature of the dark plain that’s his home, and eventually finds a small stone hidden in the grass.  It’s not much of a stone but when all you’ve got is nothing then even a small something is worth checking out, so he walks over to pick it up.  Which, apparently, was all the stone was waiting for to come to life.  It pops out arms and legs and all of a sudden life is better because the Mayor now has a friend.  It doesn’t take long to start experimenting with the available actions and wake up other hidden friends as well, and soon the sun is out and the plain is populated by a cheerful selection of weird and unique creatures all playing and interacting together.

While the unstated goal is to get as many friends as possible, the object of the game is play.  Maybe forming a ring and dancing will wake up a new friend or maybe it’s just fun to see.  The bomb of joy under the Mayor’s hat might start a new event or maybe it will just make everyone happy with the exuberance of its explosion.  The brightly colorful world has secrets to uncover, of course, but they’re unlocked by playing with the toys in the videogame toybox, and when you uncover a new friend that means there’s also a new playable character with its own abilities to experiment with.

While Wattam starts focused on the Mayor it doesn’t take long to branch out.  A trio of flowers can throw their petals like a frisbee, or a giant mouth eats other characters and turns them into happy wandering poops.  The acorn plants itself and grows into a tree, a giant table attaches itself to the edge of the world to expand the play area, and absolutely everything is alive and interacting with their friends.  Whether you come up with your own games with the abilities of the inhabitants or drag in a friend for mulitplayer goofiness, there’s a joy in discovering new ways of play whether or not it leads towards expanding the growing population.  The world of Wattam starts out as a lonely place but curiosity leads to discovery, leading to new friends, new play, and eventually a giant happy world filled with a wonderful lunacy running on its own internal logic.  It’s half playground, half videogame, and utterly, charmingly joyful.