There Are No Words
There are indie games that are nostalgia trips to our retro-gaming roots; low budget labours of love that are made by people who miss a simpler kind of platform-y, side-scrolling gaming that is no longer fashionable in the “AAA” world. Then there’s the other kind of indie game; the one with an idea so off the wall that it’s obvious why no traditional, corporate funded studio would touch it, since it screams “bizarre” from every orifice. Hohokum is that latter kind of game. This is not a game about winning, or losing, or even really pursuing any kind of definitive point. And yet, it’s one the more unusual, charming and relaxing indie efforts available on a consoles today, if you’re the kind of gamer that can enjoy a game without violence. Or any discernible purpose.
Move… And Stuff Happens
Hohokum has no story aside from what you might have pieced together from the opening, context-less cutscene. As a squiggly, stringy, free flying, ribbon-y… thing… with an eye, you are flying around with your fellow ribbon-y things, when they are separated from you. At this point, you can now freely enter into other worlds via portals, and, if you like, you can search for your siblings. Or not. You can just wander around in the different worlds. The controls are extremely simple, speeding you up and slowing down. Otherwise, the entire game is move around… and stuff happens. There’s no actual win state, or fail state in the sense that the developers have specific things they will reward or punish you for. You can’t die, there’s never, ever a game over screen.
Instead, the player is greeted with a series of worlds in which the different structures and inhabitants will do different things as you fly by. Zooming through a flower may cause it to bloom. Zooming past a line of waiters may cause them to jump on your body, and taking those waiters and flying by a platform filled with wedding guests will cause those waiters to serve drinks. Flying past a line of African-style tribal natives may cause them to start dancing in a Congo line. There is simply no way to predict what actions will occur as you move around in these different environments. And that’s the game, really. There’s a sense of discovery about these different worlds, a huge toybox of noise and colour that’s inviting you to simply mess around and see what happens. In the course of these interactions, you might fulfill enough actions that one of the separated siblings will come out of hiding, but this doesn’t give you XP, an extra life, or bonus points of any kind; it’s simply another event in a series of events all centered on you simply flying around, experiencing what each world has to offer.
The world is rendered in the bright, simple, pastel lines and colours of artist Richard Hogg, and punctuated with a variety of music from Ghostly International. It’s all been consciously designed to create a sense of childish whimsy. Honeyslug does not want players to get hung up on reading walkthroughs, or practicing levels over and over again until they get their reflexes and timing right. The goal of this game is not to play to win, but to play simply for the sake of enjoying the things that happen as you wander from one area to the next. In some ways, the simple delight of a child laughing at all the colour and noise of this game is pretty much the ideal mindset that an adult gamer should also have when sitting down to play.
This game is not going to revolutionize the industry, nor is it going to raise the bar for the medium in the way other non-violent games, such as Journey have. It’s almost like a digital toy or baby’s mobile, designed to amuse with actions, and little else. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay. This game is definitely not for the COD crowd who can’t fathom a game where no shooting occurs, but for those that are looking for something different, something relaxing, something pleasant. This is $15 well spent.