There are some game experiences I just don’t understand. Hohokum is not one of those games, even though it probably should be.
Hohokum is truly bizarre. Its protagonist, the game’s design and music are anything but conventional. The entire premise and worlds of the game make up a brilliant colour palette that’s difficult to explain. It’s every bit artistic, fluid, jarring, beautiful and grim and I loved every confusing and freeing minute of it.
Buried in this art-driven vibrancy are a series of puzzles which connect a loose narrative to each of the whimsical fantasies of Hohokum. It’s just one of the reasons why this seemingly nonsensical game appeals to me. Figuring out the puzzles requires a little patience at times. However, they’re cleverly crafted in a way where even the obscure nature of the solutions is not a deterrent for enjoyment, as Hohokum’s beauty and music help facilitate this need for exploration and set the relaxing tone of the game. Discoveries in the many worlds are the tiny details and touches that make them pop with a certain excitement. The worlds are rich in colour and emotion but not always bursting with a sense of happiness.
Hohokum’s playable character is a snake-like “kite” creature—ever-changing, shape shifting, floaty and flighty. What this creature is: it’s hard to say. It’s a lonely deity on its journey to finding its scattered friends across multiple worlds. It’s a helpful vehicle. A Destroyer. A Neutral Observer... the protagonist fits these multiple designs. In turn, these roles are projected on the levels and characterize the levels themselves. It’s a symbiotic existence between what you control and how your actions manipulate the worlds, with how the worlds prod your twirling character to act.
When your character interacts with the worlds it’s amusing with often unexpected and surprising responses. It’s the same watching the natives of each react in different ways to your meddling, which makes each world very alive. They’re at times fearful, curious, fearless, and playful. The inhabitants of each of the 17 main worlds range from giant flora and fauna to tiny multiple-eyed beings either in humanoid form or as oddly shaped creatures, all unique to each strange area you stumble upon.
Entering portals to these places feels like gazing into microscopic slices of a world and its culture. It helps that some of the art draws its influences from real world, recognizable cultural aesthetics. Amusement parks, spelunking, oceanic ventures, farmlands, tribal beings, wedding ceremonies, musical giants beneath gorgeous stretches of constellations… these are just some of the many playgrounds Hohokum offers with distinct styles by artist Richard Hogg intertwined with dynamic sounds in a glorious, experimental soundtrack by various artists on the Ghostly International indie label.
This is the other reason why the game is relatable—music is universal. It’s flowing. Never static. The soundtrack expresses a whole lot through its techno beats and dream-weaving trance sounds. But it also does this through your protagonist’s physical interaction upon the worlds’ many elements—bouncing against walls, coasting through weird flowers and hollowed-out tree stumps, for instance—which produces and adds layers to the sound.
Hohokum is both a puzzle and rhythm game that’s interestingly connected and wonderfully executed. There are distortions, and harsh sounds you could inflict on an already crumbling world. There’s a wealth of beautiful notes to suss out and mix with others. Hohokum isn’t just about its stunning, moving visuals but entrenching the senses in an auditory landscape as well. Together, it makes the experience one about destruction, rebirth, discovery and creation.
Hohokum is a fascinating experiment. It’s full of purpose in every aimless direction you choose to go. Although it’s somewhat of a struggle to vocalize and describe, there’s a place in my mind that understands it clearly in a way words won’t be able to justify—all thanks to its creative artistic qualities in both sights and sounds lending to its peculiar, trippy identity.
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