Weird, vibrant worlds aren't enough to keep players hooked
If you try to look up the word “Hohokum” in the dictionary, you won’t be any closer to understanding Honeyslug’s latest PSN title. You’ll find no answer or description that can accurately summarize the game, but that’s okay. Hohokum is an experience. It’s about jumping into a new world, spending time there, and interacting with it. If you’re looking for structure or direction, you won’t find it here.
Hohokum puts you in control of the Long Mover, a long colorful worm-like creature, as you explore a wide variety of worlds in search for your friends. You’ll explore one world, and whenever you feel like moving on, you can find a portal and transport yourself to the next. As you slither through the sky the only real actions you can perform are speeding up, slowing down, and closing the Long Mover’s eye. The real experience of Hohokum comes from elegantly flying through these worlds and discovering what you can affect. By manipulating certain things in each uniquely designed level, you’ll eventually be able to find your friends. In essence, Hohokum is a well-disguised puzzle game.
These puzzles range from transporting the various inhabitants of a world to different areas based on their individual appearances, to creating light and navigating a dark maze, to saving a caged animal, and more. There’s plenty of things to do and see in the game’s 17 worlds, but it lacks depth. Finding out what you can do in each place is a blast, but once you feel like you’ve found everything, there’s not much of a reason to go back. Every location you explore in Hohokum brings a new challenge to solve but both the bane and beauty of it lies in the fact that it’s never obvious. You’re never given direction on where to go, or what to do, leaving you to explore the worlds of Hohokum at your leisure and playing around with everything in each environment to try and find your friends. For the player who enjoys the obtuse, it’s perfect, but I found myself stuck in a couple places throughout the game where I was left banging my head against a wall.
Unfortunately, that’s where it kind of falls apart. The biggest joy you’ll get out of Hohokum is exploring and interacting with the environments, but because there is a goal, there are puzzles to solve, there are specific actions you must perform and places to go, you need something to help guide you. I found myself forgetting what portals led to which world, or how many friends I had left to find, but without a certain show of progress, or map, it became frustrating navigating through the worlds. You can return to a hub world where all the portals you’ve already taken appear, but it doesn’t help to give the player a sense of direction. I even jumped into a few worlds I didn’t mean to just because they looked similar. Basically, whenever I wanted to do something specific, Hohokum showed its blemishes, but when I just went out exploring, Hohokum shined.
Through the eccentric and colorful art of Richard Hogg, Hohokum comes to life. In a lot of games, the visuals only serve as the middle-man between the player and the game, but the art in Hohokum is just as big a part of the whole as anything. The visuals are one with the entire experience and easily became a factor that both put a smile on my face and progressed me further. Each world brings the player to a lush, exciting place full of personality and wacky, interesting characters. The problem is that you can only do so much in each place before you feel like you’ve seen everything and are ready to move on.
Backed by a soundtrack by Ghostly International, a small independent record label, Hohokum is full of catchy, light, electronic tunes that fit the aesthetic like a glove. Like the art, the music of the game becomes more than just a backdrop, (in some levels) building and growing as the Long Mover performs more and more tasks. Certain levels even mimic games like Sound Shapes or Flower, by letting the player interact with certain pieces of the environment to make your own sounds and your own music. It sounds great and continues to do more to keep the player engaged.
Hohokum is a visual, auditory, escapade that rubs your eyes and ears in all the right places. It reminds me of a good children’s pop-up book, playing around in each page to see what you can manipulate, but the overall piece lacks any real depth. Some of the puzzles do a great job of letting you explore and figure things out, but others are so obtuse that I had to wonder why the developers forced me into this game of hide-and-seek with the Long Mover’s friends. The lack of a map, or progress bar becomes frustrating when the excitement of exploration wanes. You’ll come for the weird, vibrant worlds, but once the novel wrapping fades, there’s just not enough to Hohokum to keep you hooked.