'Hohokum' review: Indie game both awesome and frustrating

Hohokum
PS4, PS3, PS Vita
Honeyslug/Sony Santa Monica
Rating: Everyone

Hohokum
PS4, PS3, PS Vita
Honeyslug/Sony Santa Monica
Rating: Everyone

Rating

3.5 Stars3.5/5

, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:17 PM ET

Hohokum is a game quite unlike any other, and very difficult to describe in a single thought or sentence. That is its greatest strength and perhaps its fundamental problem.

Available now as a digital download for all three PlayStation platforms (PS4, PS3 and Vita), Hohokum shares strands of DNA with gentle, exploratory games like Flower, Journey and PixelJunk Eden, where the goals are sometimes a bit nebulous, and the experience lies in the actual playing.

Inside a universe of vivid colour, dreamy music and weird characters, you control a being known as a Long Mover, sort of a one-eyed snake (careful now) who glides from environment to environment through circular portals, interacting with objects and creatures simply by touching them.

In each of these 17 worlds, you’re meant to figure out how you can affect your surroundings in a way that makes something significant happen, ultimately freeing another Long Mover that will return with you to the Spirograph-like hub world that is your home.

Yeah, that description really makes no sense. But neither does Hohokum, and that’s why it’s so often delightful. In one world, I’m carrying odd little people on my Long Mover’s back, guiding them to pick up seeds, plant them on hilltops and fly kites. In another, I’m navigating a sequence of grid-like rooms in which movement is only possible in right-angled turns. Then I’m serving wedding guests by diving into an ocean of wine so the waiters on my back can refill their glasses. And in yet another, I’m simply sailing through spheres of colour until they’ve been activated in some preordained sequence.

It’s unusual. It’s relaxing. It’s adorable. But eventually, it’s a bit tiresome and frustrating, and a little too clever for its own good.

I love experimental experiences that play with our notions of what makes a game a game, but for every two worlds that have some sort of neat puzzle to figure out, there’s another that’s simply baffling. I salute Hohokum’s designers for removing typical structure of objective and reward, but the game goes almost too far in this direction, with no indication given of what, if anything, you’re meant to do on each screen you visit.

Adding to this irritation is the way the game’s mini-worlds are linked together via a network of circular portals that don’t always return you to the place you came from. It’s trying to dismantle some of the confining tropes of a typical video game, and yet I felt like I needed a map keep to track of what led where.

For its vibrant visual design, wonderful music and sheer whimsical weirdness, Hohokum is well worth experiencing. But at times it seems to be meandering back and forth between a video game and a piece of interactive art, unsure of which world it belongs to.


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