No one but Keita Takahashi could make a game like Wattam. He’s known for Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy, and his newest project sports his signature cheery colors, goofy sense of humor, and playful mechanics. Even though it might appear as friendly chaos, it’s not all random — Takahashi created it with a reason in mind. He partnered with publisher Annapurna Interactive, and it will be due out later this year for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Katamari Damacy came out in 2004 and its playful mechanics and zany, addictive soundtrack made it an instant classic. It won accolades, like the Excellence in Game Design award at the 2005 Game Developers Choice Awards, and it was later featured in the Museum of Modern Art as an example of the artistic merits of video games. Wattam doesn’t have the same mechanics, but like Katamari, it has an imaginative free spirit and radiates unrestrained joy.
When I gave the demo a spin at E3, I found Wattam to be brimming with charm right away. The world was once beautiful and harmonious, but some kind of disaster destroyed everything and left the Mayor alone. From there, the player must help him discover and make new friends – all of whom are everyday objects like rocks and silverware and strawberries. The Mayor is a green cube who sports a bowler hat, which he can lift to activate a confetti bomb that delights all of his new companions.
That’s pretty much what Wattam is about – figuring out what each of the characters wants and giving it to them. A walking mouth wants to eat things, and when it does, it turns them into poop, which you then put in a toilet to flush. All of these things have faces, by the way. And they’re all happy to see the Mayor, asking him in little pictorial thought bubbles to lift his hat and regale them with an explosion of confetti.
Wattam is a convergence of two different sources of inspiration. The first is when Takahashi was playing with his kids, stacking wooden blocks until they toppled over.
“It just stacked higher than the kids could reach, and the kids would just laugh,” said Takahashi in an interview with GamesBeat. “And they said, ‘Make a game, make a game!’ I just got the idea. Maybe it would be funny if this thing that broke was alive. They could get stacked by themselves, and then somehow—in the actual world, the kids break it. But I need something, a way to break the stack. Maybe an explosion could be funny.”
And the second is a little weightier. After Takahashi moved to Vancouver, Canada, he saw how international the community was, and how everyone could get along using the common language of English. Yet, at the same time, he thought about how conflicts and war keep emerging from “the differences between us – different religions, different ways of political thinking, different skin color, different countries.”
“We’re different. But we’re the same human being, the same creature who lives on this planet. I still don’t understand why we fight each other. People say, I’m American, I’m French, I’m Japanese. But it’s just a continent. You just live on a different continent and speak a different language. It’s so stupid,” said Takahashi. “I don’t want to push my thoughts. But that’s what I need to think. That’s how I have to think while I’m making this game, because that’s the core concept.”
Takahashi says he always needs a reason to make a game, and for Wattam, that inspiration is to show a bunch of different characters who are all united by one thing: the Mayor’s exploding hat. Some of the creatures you meet will speak to you in different languages. In the demo, one character’s tooltips featured Cyrillic letters while the others were all in English. But they all love the explosion and they get sad when they’re left out.
It’s a cute and silly idea, but it seems particularly relevant in 2018 when the world seems to become increasingly polarized. Its humor and simple message — though Takashi emphasizes that he doesn’t want to preach — is refreshing.
“Other games are just shooting people and fighting. It’s so sad,” said Takahashi. “Why don’t we just make funny games that make people smile?”