Thursday, February 26, 2015

\\ Oh, The Places You'll Go: Hohokum Review //

This article contains spoilers of certain locations in the game "Hohokum" by Honeyslug and Sony Santa Monica, published by Sony Computer Entertainment. Played on PlayStation 4.

Hohokum is a game about exploration, not only of physical worlds, but of raw feelings, broad emotional states of being, and mental machinations. It’s a beautiful game which eschews conventional wisdom and embraces the pushback. It’s of little surprise that I find Hohokum to be one of the best games of 2014.

The player controls a flying snake-like creature known as the “Long Mover” which at once allows for an invigorating sense of absolute freedom yet also evokes a sense that the Mover too has agency over its locomotive properties. It wiggles like a sine wave, changing colors, blinking, vigorously vibrating. One can move one of three speeds as they careen through the game’s dozens of unique locales.

Hohokum is less a “designed” game and more a Lynchian curation of microcosms. At the onset of our travels, we’re thrown into a series of gray circles, themselves surrounded by multitudes of colored circles. An unusual introductory setting, indeed, but Hohokum wastes no time in revealing its nature outright here.

Just good friends.
Just good friends. (Image credits: DualShockers)

While we fling our Long Mover around this first location, adjusting to the control scheme, we quickly come to admire the sights and sounds Hohokum treats us to if we simply push its buttons a little. It asks us to be unafraid of the quaint yet assuming-looking patterns littering about the place, as boldly interfacing with the alien forms treats us to a wealth of gorgeous electronic symphonies by the folks on the Ghostly International record label, while simple programmer-generated light shows pierce our skulls and reverberate within our entrails.

Throughout our search of the first location, we stumble upon other similarly shaped beings, whom frolic daintily around the disco rave, just as we do. They join us on our romping, at once echoing and then disobeying our movements, or dancing with us in beautiful synchronicity on certain occasions. As our legion of Movers grow, so too does the visual splendor, while tracks upon tracks of wayward instruments stack upon each other to form surprisingly coherent lo-fi grooves and rhythms, climaxing in a ballet of tiny circles, which we swim around as if some ancient ritual, opening the portal to the next world.

The beautiful moment of realization that comes with playing Hohokum is the realization that that’s all there is. We venture forth to new, uncharted lands to learn of their unique, dreamlike qualities, converse nonverbally with their denizens, helping to make their lives better through our privilege of advanced locomotion, and repeat.

Along our way, we encounter many fantastically realized micro-societies: a theme park full of playful denizens who will ride you and jump off onto a water slide, which hides a secret dimension where the excitement has dried up, and only a monster remains, who we need to help bring into the world of rides, only to reveal a third parallel universe where an enormous swimming pool resides.

A dinner banquet (wedding?) where we escort workers to bring food and drink upward to partygoers who are too high and secluded for the folk to reach, to help with the festivities.

Making new friends.
Making new friends. (Image credits: EntertainmentBuddha)

Beeps and boops leaping around our speakers, we come across a vista of graph paper, solving increasingly obtuse puzzles which could be only be described as being about color, much like everything else in the game.

A vertically-scrolling universe of farmland and color gradients houses people tending to their crops with farm fauna, recalling Metal Gear Solid 3’s ladder scene with its apparent endlessness.

Hohokum’s worlds feel real, as cartoonish as they appear, because everything reacts to the Long Mover’s glide, sometimes differently depending on your moving speed. There are a wealth of charming sound effects which often are musically-inclined; cutesy, whimsical characters ride upon your back as you swish by; pots break, chandeliers wave back and forth. Pops and poofs, ringing chimes, the sounds of nature, the whooshing drones of space; it all just sort of sticks with you, hooking you in and making, neigh, forcing you to believe in Hohokum’s world.

A game which at first appears to be rather aimless eventually reveals itself to be intriguingly goal-oriented, as games inevitably tend to be. Each area in the game has its own unique snake creature to unearth through some degree of experimentation, and once found, they reappear in the game’s introductory area, surrounding a portal to the world it was found in. It’s an interesting approach to the idea of the hub world; as is paramount to the game’s core design philosophy, that area’s nature is initially ambiguous, revealing itself to be something more than the surface implies.

I guess both the success and curse of Hohokum is because of the open-ended nature of the gameplay and the enormous, several screen-spanning worlds, ripe with different things to do in each, it’s inevitable your progress will be halted from time to time. It’s nice that there’s always another location to go to if you’re stuck, but eventually you’ll experience some pushback. Though stagnation can be frustrating, the ambiguous nature of your goal often becomes one of the game’s greatest qualities: it causes you to deeply examine the world in order to successfully trigger what needs to happen to find a certain world’s coveted snake monster.

Open your eyes to this game.
Open your eyes to this game. (Image credits: BGR Media)

The game does have a “collectible” of sorts, in the way of eyeballs which open as you pass by them. They are often extremely difficult and time-consuming to find, further emphasizing the need to keep your eyes peeled throughout play. I will admit I found the reward for finding all of them at the end of the game to be unsatisfying, but I suppose that, indeed, it’s about the journey, not the destination. While in the thick of the hunt, one soon finds themselves connected to the place, as if it were a temporary home, or a vacation spot.

This review has been difficult to write, because Hohokum says so less, but expresses so much. It’s about the feelings, both the smiles and the sadness. I don’t want to spoil too much, because that’s the game: the moment of seeing, love at first sight, and then deeper appreciation upon further analysis. Once in a while, it’s nice to find a game with no pretensions of depth aboard its runtime. Hohokum is a game that, to me, is about what, at the end of the day, it means to be a human being. But maybe it’s not, really. It’s hard to say. It doesn’t talk much, you see. But I feel like I know it. 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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