Review: Hohokum (PS4)

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Title: Hohokum
Format: PlayStation Network Download (2.7 GB)
Release Date: August 12, 2014
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Honeyslug, Sony Santa Monica
Price: $14.99 Cross-Buy (PS4, PS3, and PS Vita)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Hohokum is also available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. It is a Cross-Buy, Cross-Save title.
The PlayStation 4 version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Gameplay:
Hohokum is the hardest game I have ever had to review. The problem is that most games can fall into these three very basic categories: games that are casually fun to play, games that are trying to be unique, and games that strive to punish you by their difficulty. Please don’t kill me for writing that sentence until you read the rest of the review. I don’t want to be too simplistic about games but I feel that it is true that most games can fit into one of those three categories.

TowerFall Ascension is an example of a casually fun game, Braid and Flower are examples of a game trying to be unique, and Rogue Legacy is an example of a game that punishes you with its difficulty. Hohokum however doesn’t fit nicely into any of these categories successfully, which makes it hard to review.

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In Hohokum you pilot a kite like creature around a giant square level, using either the joystick or buttons/triggers. The DualShock 4’s touch pad shocks your creature and causes it to fly crazy for a little bit. You are dropped into the game with no explanation of what you are supposed to do or what controls do what, it’s all up to you to figure out. 

As you fly around choosing what portal to enter, you can interact with things in the map. By bumping into or flying over things, you can activate them. Sometimes it will be just sound, similar to Sound Shapes, other times it will just cause the environment to react, say a tree grows or a creature hides from you. 

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As you activate a portal, it transports you into a level where you have to solve a puzzle in order to free more of your flying kite friends. Sometimes the puzzles are really straightforward while other times they can be more difficult to solve. Additionally, some levels have multiple stages to their puzzles where others are done in one step.

Without giving too much away, if you are in a level and you can interact with something there might be a reason for it. As you fly around levels people can jump onto your tail and ride along with you. This is important for some puzzles. For the completionist there are eyes located thought the levels that you can fly over to unlock.

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This is what makes the game very unique in that it doesn’t hold your hand at all, it doesn’t even tell you the controls. The journey is the reward of playing Hohokum, which is fine on its own.  But the problem starts when there are no visual clues about things. When you are on a map there is no indication if you have already beaten a level, it appears just the same as the others. The touch pad does something, won’t spoil it here, and I still don’t know what the purpose of it is. 

This lack of feedback hurt this game as a unique exploring adventure. Since it is a game that is hard to describe and really needs to be experienced some people won’t put up with this lack of structure that a typical game has. Something like Flow, where there are simple indications of where you used to be and where you are heading would be very welcomed here. Adding to the confusion of whether you have already completed a level is that sometimes the unlocked kite would show up and fly alongside me on levels I beat while other times it was absent, causing me to question my sanity and my memory of beating the level.

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If a game wants to be challenging that is fine, the issue comes when it punishes you for no apparent reason. Imagine if in the original Super Mario Bros. the tunnels at the end weren’t numbered and took you to different places than just 1, 2, 3, 4, etc, and if you had to go to Level 5 before you could get to Level 3. The only way to remember which pipe went where is by memorizing it or by making a map yourself. 

There is nothing like trying to remember how to get back to a certain level a day after last playing the game, and trying to remember if you actually beat the level. Another problem is that the difficulty isn’t consistent. I managed to beat one level by accident, I was just flying around in the dark and somehow did the action needed to solve the puzzle.

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Visuals:
Hohokum is a beautiful game, from the pulsating colors of your kite to the colorful characters to the imaginative backgrounds. One quick tip is to make sure you change the light bar settings on your controller before playing this game. Since the bar mimics the color of your kite, it is constantly changing and I went through two fully charged controllers in my playing. The real beauty of Hohokum is the subtle details in the backgrounds and people. For its style of artwork I would easily put it up with the best of them.

When you go back to the “Home” map it will show you all the other kite friends you have unlocked.  While flying around the map occasionally you will enter these spaces that almost turn into an interactive work of art. Definitely spend some time just flying around in those spaces, it is very awe inspiring.

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Audio:
The soundtrack for Hohokum is incredible. Very rarely does a soundtrack perfectly match with the game. This is one of those fortunate times where the dream pop of Tycho all the way to the techno beats of Geoff White really lift the game to new heights. This is one of the few game soundtracks that I bought after playing the game. (Link for soundtrack http://www.amazon.com/Hohokum-Original-Soundtrack-Various-artists/dp/B00MD0O754/)

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

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Conclusion:
As I mentioned earlier Hohokum is hard to review. It has very unique visuals and interesting gameplay that forces you to explore, but then punishes players for trying to explore it. There are times when levels can require a lot of thought process to solve, yet some levels can be beat in mere seconds. On one hand the casual nature of Hohokum is easy to get into and encourages picking it up and playing it, on the other hand good luck remembering what you have completed up to that point.

In the end I think that Hohokum is a game that should be played and experienced, much like a work of art your experience might be different than mine. It isn’t a perfect game but could be with just a few tweaks.

Score:
7.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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  • Keith Dunn

    Agreed! I like playing it but after a little while I gotta take a break from trying to care. I got a trophy and I have no IDEA what the words or terms on it even mean….so not even checking trophies helps to figure out what’s happening. And yet….it’s OK to fiddle around with for a little while.