PSX 2017 Hands-On: Wattam is About Embracing Differences and Exploding Hats
Mayor is lonely. He’s by himself, with nothing but a spotlight to shine on his loneliness. That is, he’s lonely until he meets a rock. The two of them become fast friends, and Mayor discovers that when he takes off his hat, he explodes. His new friend loves it, and it attracts more new friends. Mayor explodes for them too and they fly around the area bringing even more new friends, each with their own unique talents and desires. The nose (yes, there’s a nose) can sniff things. The mouth can eat things (and poop them out). The toilet can flush those poops to make them golden. And the bowling pin just wants a stack of friends as tall as he is.
Did I mention that Mayor is a green cube with a simple face and a bowler hat? And that the variety of characters you meet are strange abstractions of everyday objects with faces, legs, and arms? Those arms are important, because pressing either square or circle will stretch your character’s arm to the nearest other character to hold their hand. Wattam is as bizarre as they come, but I can’t say I’ve ever played another game where I was overjoyed to simply have a green cube and a nose hold hands with a rock and a fork, and then joyously explode in a shower of confetti. Yes, everything I just said can happen in Wattam.
You can switch between characters easily, each with their own special abilities. Each of these abilities could be the key to bringing the next set of friends to the party, and often the game is about figuring out how to blend their abilities together and sequence them. The acorn can grow into a tree which can turn characters into fruit that the mouth can eat to poop out so that the toilet can turn them gold, etc. You know, the basic cycle of life, right? Each character object has a unique name too, so the acorn isn’t just called Acorn. It might be something like Tim or Peter or Meredith, but honestly, I met so many friends in my brief demo that it’s tough to put a name to a face.
The physics engine is a delight, but is also part of what’s taken Wattam so long to see the light. While it’s been missing in action for a couple of years after being announced in 2015, it’s nice to see that they have a playable build available for the public. This build wasn’t perfect, and I ran into a number of odd physics glitches, prompting the developer to tell me that’s what they are working on. Each character has its own physics and AI patterns, and the more friends you add to the screen, the more unpredictable Wattam can get. Understandably, unpredictability can create huge problems for developers, so they’re working on smoothing out some of the oddities that can occur as a result of that chaotic nature.
Wattam is different, but it’s a game about celebrating differences. The puzzles involve seeing each character’s differences as strengths that help to solve puzzles. Every bit of Wattam is about friendship and diversity, and it’s wrapped in one of the strangest packages I’ve ever had the pleasure of interacting with. What I played at PSX was only a part of a single level in the final game, with the promise of more bizarre friendships and special abilities. What’s certain is that Wattam is weird, but it’s a kind of weirdness that begs to be embraced and celebrated. It’s not going to be a game for everyone, but its cheery and insane veneer holds one of the strongest messages of acceptance in any game that I’ve played. I can’t wait to hold hands with a nose, take off my hat, and explode when Wattam releases in 2018.