'Hohokum' review - controlled ambiguity

Wednesday, 13 August 2014 11:00 AM Written by 

 

Hohokum iconEvery so often, a game will pop up as a surprise on my review calendar. This was the case for “Hohokum”: an artsy exclusive for the PlayStation family by Honeyslug and Santa Monica Studio. I didn’t know much about “Hohokum” going into the review, which can be a positive. It’s refreshing to pick up a game with a blank slate, especially today when AAA games receive umpteen trailers prior to release. “Hohokum” is rare in this regard. But what’s even more unique is that I don’t know much more about this game after having spent more than six hours with it.

“Hohokum” embraces ambiguity in nearly every sense of its design. You play as a thread, or perhaps a snake or a worm. The game lacks a conventional introduction, so the identity of the protagonist remains somewhat of a mystery. This thread is on a mission to relocate his friends who have been separated and scattered amongst different areas.

These areas have objectives that are nearly impossible to categorize due to their originality. Each area (14 in all) has its own theme, color scheme, shapes, music, background decor and interactable objects. It’s up to the thread to find out what needs to be completed within this area to release the friendly thread that is being held there.

The thread’s only ability is movement in 360 degrees. Speed of movement can be increased or decreased, but I spent most of the time using the brisk movement achieved by holding the “X” button. Each area must be explored to see what can be altered upon interaction. Through that exploration, a solution to the objective may or may not be found.

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This process can be frustrating, and at other times rewarding. Those “eureka” moments usually found in competent puzzle games aren’t common because the game does little to nudge players in the proper direction. The thread enters a new area with no clue as to what is expected. A good puzzle game slowly progresses difficulty, while consistently building on the lessons learned in the previous stages. “Hohokum” is a hodgepodge of tasks where previous stages fail to provide any indication of what to expect in the future. Because of this, “Hohokum” is not a good puzzle game, but there is something about its unorthodox structure that makes it appealing.

What started as a near sleep-inducing bore slowly evolved into either a quest for completion or the slow descent into insanity. Maybe it’s the gamer in me that harnessed the inherent drive to complete the game once it got rolling. Maybe it’s the fact that I was staring at abstract shapes and bright colors accompanied by “Hohokum’s” whimsical, rhythmic tunes for nearly six hours straight. I can’t pinpoint exactly what made my time with the game enjoyable, but something about it was enjoyable. Freely roaming the psychedelic stages with no timer or sense of urgency was hypnotic to where I nearly reached a point of giddy glee.

The main game ends when all of the thread’s friends are reunited. Endgame content is in the form of closed eyes that are scattered throughout the game world. Passing over an eye opens it. There are 146 in total.

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“Hohokum” is an example of how abstract a video game can be when it strips away the conventions like a plot, tutorial or anything that is a virtual representation of something found on the Planet Earth. Its vagueness is both its strength and its weakness. Players will either love it for being different or hate it for the same reason. I’m stuck somewhere in between. I don’t see myself revisiting "Hohokum," but it will certainly stick out in my mind for the foreseeable future.

8 out of 10

 

Pros:

Hypnotising art style
Enjoyable exploration

Cons:

Lack of direction can be frustrating

 Platform   PS3, PS4 (reviewed), Vita 
 Release Date   8/12/2014
 Price  $14.99
 Rated  E for Everyone

 

 

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