Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Hohokum is Hohodrum - The Take Your Time Review

Quick Note: The cute aesthetic and desire to adventure into the world are mired by annoying puzzles and lack of communication to the player as to what he/she is supposed to do. Rather than feeling free, you'll often feel annoyed and wondering what the hell is going on.

Game genres have morphed and changed so much that it's becoming harder to simply classify them. This can become an exercise in frustration at times, but ultimately it means that the medium as a whole is growing and expanding, combining things we've come to know and love into new experiences. Not all of these episodes culminate into something worth playing, and unfortunately, Hohokum is one of those experiences.

Hohokum is a game based on diving into its world and figuring things out for yourself. Players start out as a small rainbow snake-like creature in one world and by moving into warp holes, players can take the rainbow snake into new worlds to explore. The game is all about exploration, in almost every meaning of the word, and on paper is sound pretty great. But in execution, it's confusing and disorienting, and one of the few cases in which a game not giving players any sort of direction hinders the experience. 

The color scheme and world design is about the most interesting part of the game.

This confusion stems mostly from the puzzle solving aspect. You see, the rainbow snake has a bunch of snake friends of different color hiding throughout the game. Solving puzzles in specific levels will help lead to releasing these friends and 'beating' the game. Some of these puzzles are actually pretty interesting and enjoyable.

For example, one world has balls of honey hanging in the air and small characters with tanks on their backs that will suck up this honey. So by carrying them around the player can help these critters fill their tanks and fill up a giant vat in the middle of the level with honey. Once the honey runs out, there are little bugs that are scattered around the level that can be hit, forcing them to wake up and grab more honey, which they then put into the environment. This is smart design and one of the best puzzles in the game. 

Need to know where these people go? Too bad. Figure it out.
However, most of the puzzles are not like this in Hohokum. Often times, to solve a puzzle, players simply have to fumble around levels, bumping into things and hoping these interactions will lead to a result of some sort. For the simpler puzzles, this isn't an issue, though it can be a little dull, but for the more complex puzzles that require multiple steps to complete, it's often confusing as to what the player has to do to release the little snake. Running back and forth across a level hitting all of the items is simply not fun, and despite the short run time of Hohokum, it gets tedious very quickly, especially without a sense of direction. Without the strong reason to stick through puzzles that other adventure games instill in the player, such as strong characters or and interesting story, you're instead left with the feeling of annoyance and wanting to just get to the end of the level so it can be over.

This is....interesting...I guess....
And if puzzles are not confusing and random, they are boring. The biggest offender of this is a level in which, using the little rainbow snake, I had to move up and down on a level to hit little plants that are drastically different colors than the background level. That's not a puzzle. There wasn't any brain power that went into that. I simply hit things and eventually a friend appeared. 

All of this frustration is really upsetting, because the over all aesthetic of the game is enjoyable. The different character designs and worlds are unique and fun, with catchy tunes playing in the background. I really feel like the game would have been much more enjoyable if it were simpler, without puzzles but more in line with the first person exploration game Prometheus, or go in the opposite direction with more instruction and guidance and excitement to help avoid the doldrums. By adding puzzles and not giving the player any guidance, the game often feels at odds with itself, trying to give the illusion of freely exploring while also strapping the player down with task after task.

As much as I want this colorful world to be fun, it isn't.
Ultimately, Hohokum isn't a broken game and it isn't a terrible or unplayable game. It's just not very fun. There will be plenty of people who enjoy the game for what it is, but it's a far cry from being a classic. If you are okay with wondering around aimlessly in a colorful world with a good soundtrack, then you're in luck. If you're looking for something with substance and solid game play, move onto some of the better indie games out there.

5.5 out of 10

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