Wattam review – a Takahashi joint through and through

December 16, 2019
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Keita Takahashi remains singularly unconcerned with concepts such as target audiences and player retention. When asked what he’s aiming at with his games, the answer is, simply, “fun”. Subsequent questions are likely to be met with a shrug. In light of this, the story of Takahashi’s hit Katamari Damacy feels like a happy accident, precisely because he embodies the spirit of an independent creator unbothered by commercial constraints. Takahashi designs small experiments, brightly coloured toys limited in function, but fun in the moment. Easy to pick up and put away. It’s a mindset he shares with Funomena, who collaborated with him on Wattam and who make games such as Luna and Wooorld with the same colourful, inclusive appeal.

Wattam feels like a collection of the things Takahashi found fun in the moment, several simple elements loosely connected by a theme. It begins with you taking control of the mayor, a green cube with a face wearing a bowler hat. The mayor is all alone on a floating island, until suddenly he claps eyes on a new friend – a stone! “Welcome back, stone!!” it says, and in this vein it continues. Your task is basically to repopulate a number of islands, each representing a different season, with any odd thing people usually associate with each.

“Repopulate” might be a generous word, as it implies you know what you’re doing, when really you just do what Wattam tells you to, following its special brand of Keita Takahashi logic. Here, each usually inanimate object takes a life of its own, and you play with all of them. Each has their own music, which is a nice idea on paper, but relatively chaotic in practice as you switch between characters. Some have a use and some don’t – the mouth for example spends its time chasing its food friends only to gobble them up and then poop them out from a thankfully unexplained orifice. Congratulations, you have just reintroduced one type of poop into the world! (There are several.) You can then take control of the toilet, which gleefully flushes the poop, turning it shiny and golden. If you take control of a tree, it will suck up another character Kirby-style and bring it back as fruit. Or maybe you want to go ‘go kaboom’ – then the mayor lifts his hat to reveal a bomb underneath that will explode into bright smoke and propel him and everyone nearby into the air. Why? Just because you can.

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