Gamemaker Keita Takahashi excels at the silly and imaginative. In fact, his stuff flies in the face of your typical video games that challenge you to race from here to there, or shoot this group of bad guys, or set off on some questing adventure. His games do nothing of the sort. They’re more like what happens when you give a creative kid a big empty cardboard box, a fistful of colored pencils and a pair of blunt-tip scissors. For some, that will equal a whole lot of irritating frustration. But to the kid peeping out of the cardboard box, it’s joy.
Takahashi’s latest is a game called Wattam. And it’s sort of like a storybook that your 3-year-old might concoct: A tale that winds around and around itself, going nowhere but giggling all the time.
We begin by meeting a mustachioed green cube in a bowler hat named The Mayor. Of course, the Mayor isn’t really a mayor of anybody, he’s actually all alone and pretty sad, sitting on a floating platform that makes up his world. But then he meets a little rock with a drawn-on face and little stick arms and legs. They chase each other around the platform and become instant pals. And then they meet a bigger, smiling rock friend. And the Mayor discovers that he can tip his hat, revealing a little gift-wrapped confetti bomb that explodes and sends them all careening into the air in gales of giggles and puffs of green smoke.
Their adventures don’t get much deeper as they sail about on their surprisingly varied platform. Later, some new object friends are sad over a loss and cry tears that cause a barren field to grow waves of golden grass, or that pool into a small lake to splash in. We welcome in happy seasons and explore other adjoining floating platforms in the shapes of huge buckets, gigantic ducky bath toys and the like. From there we meet a parade of other anthropomorphized objects: flowers, sushi, a balloon that’s afraid of heights, an acorn that grows into a tree, a walking mouth, a grumpy telephone, some little grinning … toilets.
Oh yes, there are toilety things running about, too, as our object buddies are sucked up by a tree and reborn as fruit and then gobbled up by their friends and transformed into smiling squirts of poo (with a few circling flies). And all these ongoing nursery-room happenings are accompanied by a chorus of chortling kids’ voices, lots of babyish babbling, robotic plinks and plunks, an ever-changing musical track and the raspberry phhttt of imitation gas-passing. All the sort of stuff designed to make a tyke snicker and snort.
Are there actual things to do? Sure. Sometimes you have to figure out how to stack up friends to stand as tall as a big old bowling pin, or to find a way up to a mischievous sun that has snatched away our telephone friend’s receiver. There are all sorts of sprinkled-in surreal little duties and lots of silly little object pals who’re more than happy to help us figure out how to fulfill those silly little objectives. Gamers can control and move just about everything, including the floating platforms they’re standing on. And if a couple gaming friends want to move different objects around and play together, well, all the better.
What’s the point of it all? Well, that’s just the thing, there doesn’t seem to be any point other than some nonsensical, imaginative play. You go ‘til you’re tired of it, set it aside and come back later for a bit more.
Wattam will be true torment for some focused gamers. But for lovers of the absurd, or a mom or dad with a tiny family member tucked under their arm, it could be a chance for silly fun and some non-threatening game play of a completely different stripe. You know, for when you run out of cardboard boxes and colored pencils.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.