Every now and then you get something that eschews the normal rules of traditional gameplay. A game that doesn’t really care how you decide to operate within its world, instead opting to present you with a room of doors, and it’s entirely up to you which one you open.
Hohokum represents this perfectly. Its hands-off approach to gameplay means you can take your time to search through each level, probing your surroundings for the tiny details of flair that give the game a sense of innocence and charm. Everything you see is doused in a beautifully vibrant aesthetic, and the world itself is populated by wondrous creatures that look like they’ve been ripped straight from your wildest dreams. Strange towers with eyes, U-shaped bees, and large-headed people playing violins are just some of the sights that can be found within the game’s picturesque dream world. There’s always the feeling that for every elephant creature or hat-making villager you find, you still have more to see, and there’s just no way of knowing what creation will appear next.
Perhaps the weirdest creature of them all is you. Your involvement with the world comes in the form of a giant snake-like creature with one singular beady eye placed at the head of its long, twisting body. You are, for lack of a better word, a magical flying Cyclops. And as a magical flying Cyclops, you have the freedom to weave through the world, exploring its features and completing tasks along the way. The creature controls as you would imagine, with the thumbstick used to control the direction of the head and the body propelling it forward. Using the Square button slows you down for precision movement; whilst holding X lets you build up momentum to travel much faster across the landscape. Neither function is relevant to any of the game’s tasks, but they go a long way towards helping you experience the world at your own pace. Slowing the speed down can be especially helpful if you’re trying to examine some of the finer details of the world, as the creature is in a constant state of momentum, which can make it hard to get a good look at the environment and its inhabitants.
As for what the goal of the game is, well that’s somewhat debatable. There’s a large emphasis on exploration within Hohokum which is made clear from the lack of guidance it gives you. When the game starts, you’re shown a delightful display of several creatures that fly alongside you as they playfully weave across your screen. Eventually you reach a middle point in the world, and the creatures disperse in all directions leaving you all alone in this unknown dreamscape. From what I can gather, this is the start of some crazy inter-dimensional game of hide and seek, but the game never really gives you any explanation or prompts about what is happening, instead leaving you to your own devices in the hope that you’ll figure it out in the end.
At one point, I entered a world full of hollowed logs that seemed to go on forever. Each log was just like the last, and despite being able to go through them, there didn’t seem to be any real interaction to be had with these scattered pieces of timber. And so I searched, across the edges, and throughout the middle of this forest of logs, at first quizzically and then desperately, struggling for a revelation as to what it was this zone actually wanted me to do, only to go away empty handed and frustrated. And to this day I still have no idea what the goal of this room was, or just what I had missed so blatantly. Unfortunately this issue persists throughout several of the worlds, and what at first feels like a whimsical canvas to explore soon turns into a hastily wrapped tussle as you desperately scan the horizon for a hint or a clue as to what the game actually wants from you.
These worlds are what Hohokum is made up of, and each one seems to serve as its own separate puzzle. In one instance I entered, I was greeted with a trio of elephant men wearing water tanks. As I sailed past them, they boarded my snake body and began to collect globs of honey that was floating across the skyline. Below them rested a giant mechanical labyrinth of pipes and tanks, and the goal of this world was to gather up enough of this honey to fill the main tank, which in turn gave me access to climb inside the machine and reach a blocked off area. After accomplishing my task, a creature like me – one of the several we saw at the start of the game – emerges, and I’m treated to a mini cutscene of strange creatures doing strange things. This world is seemingly complete, though I’d never know for sure.
The portals are an intertwined series of pathways; each one offering access to another land with each one representing its own distinctive motif. On one occasion I found myself stumbling across a water park filled to the brim with partygoers. There was excitement and life as far as you could fly, and the entire zone was alive with activity. That is, until I travelled below the platforms and festivities. Passing through a seemingly unimportant gap in the rocky underside of the structure caused the world to pulsate, and all of a sudden things took a strange turn. The party was over, and the once active water slides lay in ruins. The platforms that were so alive moments ago had now been reclaimed by nature, and the overall tone had instantly shifted to something more serene. It’s these moments, of sheer intrigue, that carry Hohokum above the leagues of a simple puzzle game. In the blink of an eye, the simple act of passing between two rocks revealed a new world, and as far as I’ve seen this mechanic is unique to this specific zone. And there’s plenty of other seemingly unobvious triggers scattered across the game that offer these charming little nuggets for you to experience, and it’s fair to say that this is the true heart and soul of the game.
To say that Hohokum is a puzzle game would be doing it a disservice. While it is true that there are goals to achieve, these are not strictly the main aim of the game. Instead, you’re given this colourful playground full of imaginative creatures and interactions, and you’re simply told to go and play. However, when the time comes to progress through the game, some of the puzzles present themselves in the most obscure ways imaginable, often leaving you flying around in circles wondering just what the game is trying to tell you. Those of you who like a clear cut challenge should probably avoid this title, but if exploration and colourful dream-creatures are your thing then I would strongly recommend diving in.
This review is based on experiences from the PS4 version of the game.
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