Hohokum is beautifully endearing, whimsically comical, filled with bold colours and sumptuous aural dreamscapes. Its fluid mechanics are simple and straightforward, allowing players to concentrate on finding ways to interact with the cartoonish worlds and uncovering little visual rewards for their troubles.
But I found it to be somewhat problematic at first.
Hohokum feels like you're playing through a drug-induced cartoon from half a century ago in some ways. I half expected to be ambushed by Blue Meanies as I meandered through its myriad worlds. It's lovely to behold with its bright, bold colour scheme and cutesy art courtesy of Richard Hogg. I spent a good deal of time in one chamber of the game where the long, snake-like, cycloptic rainbow eel thingy that you control links up with a bunch of friends and they all respond to your controller inputs for a bit. It was like playing with a virtual spirograph, and I just danced for a bit with my rainbow eel chums and I looked up and I'd been doing it for almost half an hour.
That's probably my favourite bit of Hohokum so far, to be honest. it's a simple game once you peel away the quirky art. You steer this one-eyed spectrum snake around, occasionally slowing it down, sometimes speeding it up. And that's it. There are a bunch of multi-screen levels to the game that present you with some sort of bizarre tableau and just leave you to figure things out for yourselves. It's like a PixelJunk Proteus in some ways, or what Nokia's Snake did during the acid years, forgetting all about eating that square pixel, and going on a colourful bender.
It strikes me that Hohokum is the sort of game that people who proudly call themselves Gamers seem to dislike because it falls down as a prospect the minute you try to fix or solve it. To approach it as a puzzle game is to be disheartened. Its puzzles can be pretty obtuse, and seem rather predicated on ferreting out a key gameplay trigger in amongst large amounts of visual nonsense. There's no map to help guide you through these worlds, no aid in terms of progression, and the environment isn't particularly helpful at instructing you how to read the game and move forwards.
Normally, this would be the point where I turn around and castigate a game for forcing players into trial-and-error scenarios, but to be honest, the problem with games where that is the case has more to do with experimentation in those games proving frustrating and monotonous and uninspiring and lazy. I can't say that about Hohokum. The entire point of the game revolves around you bumping into things, interacting with bits and bobs of these psychedelic landscapes, seeing what happens, seeing what else you can affect, stringing things together, and just playing with what you're given.
How open you are to that prospect will determine how much you get out of this game.
It's a game ill-suited to the review process, although it's also one of the few that's broken free recently. I'll readily admit that half a decade of reviewing games has made it difficult for me to switch that critical part of my brain off when it comes to most forms of entertainment these days. I started Hohokum all wrong, searching for purpose and puzzles and answers and things to do rather than simply playing. I wasted too much energy trying to decipher it rather than just having fun with it, failing to see the forest for the trees. But dipping in and out of it (and it began to make more sense to me, I feel, when I played it on my Vita rather than the PS4) gave me more joy. As any adventure game fan can no doubt relate, having somewhat obscure puzzles can make for an intensely satisfying payoff, but there's a always a danger of frustration and even boredom while you're hunting for a way forwards.
The thing is, Hohokum makes no real pretence of having objectives or goals. There are nearly 150 eyes to find or something and the process of reuniting all of your rainbow worm buddies could be seen to be the end goal, I suppose, but the game never really comes out and says it. It doesn't explain a thing, doesn't tell you what to do or where to go. It's a game that makes a mockery of mechanical criticism and attempts towards objective approximations of "worth" or "value". It's a game all about art and imagination and, above all, playing.
And I'm not sure if I can give it a score.
It cares nothing for scores, and applying one here would almost seem meaningless. So I'm not going to.
Should you by it? Well, to be brutally honest, it's a game that would be perfect as a PlayStation Plus curio, and I'm pretty sure that we'll see it there at some point down the line. I found it to be odd and empty with moments of fleeting magic at first. But the more I stopped analysing it and let myself simply play, the more I began to delight in the little sprites, their little animations, the detail to the worlds, the beautiful music that perfectly compliments the fluidity of movement by the long-mover (I still prefer rainbow worm). To talk of "gameplay" here would be to talk about a shallow game, but as an interactive art piece that feels in many ways like a bumper colouring book come to life, it's a little wondrous.
I can't stop grinning when I play it now.
Platforms: Cross-Buy -- PS4 | PS3 | PS Vita
Developers: Honeyslug, Sony Santa Monica Studio, Richard Hogg
Publishers: Sony Computer Entertainment