Hohokum review: all sizzle

Game Info
Platform PS3, PS Vita, PS4
Publisher SCE Santa Monica Studio
Developer Honeyslug
Release Date Aug 12, 2014

Hohokum would be a fucking incredible screen saver.

Growing up in the mid-90s, I remember being vaguely fascinated with early Windows screensavers, like that flying toasters thing and the ever-popular 3D maze. They almost looked like video games, and damn it, I wanted to play them. It turns out the dream was greater than the reality.

It's a harsh comparison, but Hohokum only has just slightly more interactivity than those looping monitor programs. Developer Honeyslug has teamed up with Sony Santa Monica and artist Richard Hogg to create a game that's absolutely beautiful to look at. I just wish the playing of it would have connected with me on any level.

Hohokum doesn't waste time building up context or telling you what to do

In Hohokum, you take control of a ... giant ... worm ... thing. This multi-colored creature flies through 2D environments, interacting with characters and items by bumping into them or zooming in circles around them. There's a button to speed up, a button to slow down and a button to wiggle your worm's body for a quick burst of speed.

And that's pretty much it! The game doesn't waste time building up context or telling you what to do. It provides the basics, and then you're free to explore a variety of colorful locales and figure out what there is to accomplish within them.

These worlds themselves are the real star of the game. Each has its own color palette, its own aesthetic that's entertaining to discover. There's the pink-toned water park full of bathing suit-clad cartoons looking to have fun. There's the blue forest zone inhabited by monster-worshipping figures who carry strange signs. Every area has something bright and fun to study.

But this is ostensibly a game, so of course you won't just be looking. As you fly around the areas, you'll discover small interactions that can, bit by bit, change the environment. For example, one area opens by introducing you to an elephant stomping around with a caged monkey on its back. Elsewhere in this level, you'll discover other monkeys hanging from vines, staying out of the elephant's way. The monkeys will grab onto you as you fly by, and if you provide them with fruit — found elsewhere in the level — they'll begin pelting it at the elephant, eventually freeing their friend.

That's one of the more complex examples, and one of the better levels in the game. Interaction is limited to bumping into things or providing characters a ride to other parts of the area. Every time I entered a new map, I took about ten minutes to fly around, get the lay of the land and figure out what I could and could not interact with. Then, I tried to piece together a plan to change the status quo of that area. When I succeeded, I was awarded a short cutscene and a new worm character who would join me in floating through that zone.

Hohokum review a 780
Interaction is limited to bumping into things or providing characters a ride

This rotation held my attention for approximately two or three of Hohokum's couple dozen levels. The problem isn't the lack of clear goals or a driving narrative — though certainly that will frustrate and scare away some gamers. But my biggest issue was the simplistic, boring nature of most of the things you're able to accomplish here. Flying around an area for 20 minutes only to cause a few characters to shift around didn't feel like payoff for figuring out the game's "puzzles," for lack of a better word.

Though it can be meandering, each area of Hohokum does have a single goal that you're headed toward. However, the game doesn't seem interested in helping you accomplish them or even tracking what you have accomplished. Levels are interconnected randomly through warp holes, and there's no immediate, easy way to tell whether or not you've already finished the goal in a level without warping back to the "home" zone. After a few hours with the game, I found myself wandering from level to level aimlessly, never totally sure which areas I had already cleared and which had something left to be done.

Wrap Up:

Hohokum is beautiful but shallow

If there's a greater purpose to Hohokum that reveals itself by the end of the game, I was never able to discover it. I don't think video games all need to be the same; not every game needs a fail state, and not every game needs a deep story, and so on. But Hohokum is the prime example of a game whose beauty is truly skin deep. It sure is lovely to look at, and if that's all you want, you won't be disappointed. There's just not much under the surface.

Hohokum was reviewed using pre-release debug code and final downloadable PlayStation Network code provided by Sony. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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