The collaboration between indie dev Honeyslug and designer Richard Hogg, Hohokum, is an experience that asks very little and offers even less in the way of direction. But it is definitely that; an experience. Like several of PlayStation’s cult indie titles such as Journey, Flower and The Unfinished Swan, it flagrantly indulges in an arty disposition, and performs it quite beautifully in a way that only video games can.
Developer: Honeyslug and Sony Santa Monica
Reviewed on: PS4
There’s no real narrative in Hohokum and you won’t be mothered through every objective, control scheme or gameplay mechanic. That’s mainly because all three of those common gaming staples are particularly meager, to say the least. You play the game as an eye, perched on a long slinking tail, gently moving through an environment that stirs occasionally as you bump into and weave between it. Movement is equally simplistic: move or move a little faster.
Initially you’ll be left wondering what exactly Hohokum actually is. It begins at its thinnest and most unimaginative in an effort to ease the player into its world of wonder and quirky art styles. Circular barriers that explode into colour when touched make up the levels in which more snake friends lurk waiting to join your journey, innately helping to create kaleidoscopic patterns as you weave and twist through the space with them all in tow. Your purpose is never really defined asides from the basic urge to move and explore, but finding the other snakes offer an initial means to an end – an end that could probably be left open to interpretation if the real spirit of the game was to be wholly indulged.
It’s the excellent visual and audio style that make Hohokum and represent the majority of its strengths, though. There’s a striking appeal that draws you into its charms full of multicoloured scenery and nonsensical situations with several worlds that each have their own style and house subtle puzzles that halts any exploring. It’s actually decidedly retrospective in the sense that the challenge is often trying to figure out what the challenge actually is. For instance, bumping into an object might change it in someway that leads you to ponder ‘what if I did this over here, too? What will happen?’ – and it’s that notion that forms the basis of gameplay as you experiment and tinker within Hohokum’s delightful playground.
Delivering a world’s inhabitants to hill peaks so they can fly kites, guiding a swarm of fish through water or filling a guy’s mug with hot honey are just few of the scenarios laid out in front of you. Hohokum feels like Monty Python’s sweet younger sibling, full of random ideas and wonderful imagination laid on a similar bed of melancholy undertones that you’d find in Media Molecule’s Tearaway. Although, this adventure’s strengths may also be its biggest weaknesses for many people who delve into it.
The lack of targets and clarity when it comes to objectives may deter a lot of gamers who like to know exactly what’s expected of them. There’s no time limit or quest list and you only ever have a very vague idea of your purpose and even why you’re attempting to achieve it – once you’ve managed to figure that out through your own interpretation of events, of course. Even for those who are easily invested in that type of gameplay approach, times in between realisation where you’re just floating around from area to area trying to find a sniff of something to do invite a real danger of aimlessness. That’s where Hohokum tests your dedication to its interactive art style, especially when there’s no guidance to fall back on and your perseverance is tested.
Ultimately, the reward comes from the individuals experience with the game. When you do find your feet and solve a puzzle, Hohokum will inevitably put a smile on your face with its vibrant production values. But progression can feel like a myth that the game whispers every now and then, rather than something solid and fathomable. For that reason, you might find frustration when the next step isn’t immediately apparent. If you can look past those points Hohokum still has more than enough charm to captivate, without perhaps quite reaching the brilliance of other ‘interactive art’ indie counterparts that have come before it.