Short update on Sayonara Wild Hearts, about 2/3 of the way through all of the levels/tracks/scenes - this would actually be a fairly short game if you just played each of the scenes through once (maybe even as little as an hour?), but there’s a certain amount of “score attack” about the rhythm genre which this definitely partakes of, and I’m trying not to go too far without at least getting some rank on each stage. What rank that is has quickly decayed, as I suspected, from Silver (on the first few) to Bronze (on most of the rest), although I find that the difficulty of ranking seems pretty variable.
There’s one level which is essentially a driving game where I was sure I was going to get unranked on and got Silver - I think because, ironically, my poor driving control fighting the momentum of the car meant I was sliding & drifting a lot, which gets you extra points!
Talking of difficulty, I am sort of 90% happy with how Sayonara Wild Hearts handles this - there are no lives, although “deaths” near-instantly reset your progress in the level to the start of the sub-sequence they occur in (and zero your multipliers, so not dying is important for high scores) which can be frustrating if you’re also enjoying the music, but is usually less than 30 seconds of time. However, if you fail enough times in any particular sub-sequence, you’ll be offered the opportunity to skip it [and if you just say “no” and not “never”, you’ll be prompted again after a similar additional number of failures]. I’ve not done this so far - mainly because the music and visuals are too good to not retry a section 10 times or so - although I can definitely see it might become tempting in particular levels with some unique (and confusing) mechanics.
(So far, the only two tracks I’ve still failed to rank are: one with a whole “alternating tracks” mechanic, where the entire map switches between two alternate versions on a particular rhythm, and you have to be in the right place to avoid obstacles/collect items on both maps and a deliberately blocky 3d first person “autoscroller” which just messes me up because I am awful at judging my location in 3d paths. Both of which are unique mechanics.)
As with all games like this [and actually, basically all games], I’m very aware that I’m probably never going to be able to Gold rank most of the stages, but so far I’m managing to cope with just hoping that I can at least rank on each of them. [There’s a bunch of “optional challenges”, each of which are described in cryptic riddles, at least one of which obviously does need you to gold rank a particular stage… but I’m trying to ignore that for the moment…]
Still, it’s still super inventive - and super confident with it - and I’m enjoying myself despite knowing I’m not good enough to do it justice.
Edit to add: okay, so I finished / played the last level/sequence for the first time just now. (Not really “completed”, since I have a bunch of tracks which I’m not ranked on, and I’ve only unlocked one of the challenges). I have to say, the ending did bring a tear or two to my eye - it’s not as emotionally affecting, as, say, Transistor was for me (which got me to actually choke up for most of the ending song), but it’s definitely doing something.
Weirdly, I found the later sections really variable in difficulty - I managed silver rank first try on one of the tracks which apparently people often find particularly difficult (Hate Skulls - the one with the floating skulls you have to target with your bow), but also utterly failed to rank on the level following it. And I did finally skip a section, in the really super-long epic final track, just because my fingers were getting tired.
This is partly primary-recency effect, but Sayonara Wild Hearts is genuinely up there with my games of the year contenders at the moment.
edit edit: also I totally see why this is recommended by some Outer Wilds fans (having watched a playthrough of the latter) now I’ve finished it. It’s that emotional and philosophical through-line expressed in gameplay.