Hokko Life (Nintendo Switch) Review

Hokko Life (Switch) Review 1
Hokko Life (Switch) Review
Hokko Life
Developer: Wonderscope
Publisher: Team17
Played On: Nintendo Switch
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
MSRP: 22.99
Release Date: 27/09/2022

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in a lot of cases it’s true…wait a minute, I already started my last review like this, didn’t I? Well it feels quite fitting that I would copy the intro to my last review as I begin to look at Hokko Life, since so much of it is borrowed from other, more popular games in the genre.

I remember first seeing stories about Hokko Life a few months after Animal Crossing New Horizons had been out, and the “fanbase” had shifted the discourse to be about how empty of a game it was—since a global pandemic had forced everyone inside, with nothing to do but play Animal Crossing for four straight months. The conversation seemed to be that Hokko Life was the good version—providing crafting and creative options that Animal Crossing was sorely missing.

Hokko Life (Switch) Review 2

Having finally played it, I’m honestly not sold, and not because I have a soft spot of Animal Crossing: New Horizons—being one of the few games I’ve given a 10/10 score too—but because for the few things that it does right, it never really feels like its own game; instead like an amalgam of Animal Crossing and Story of Seasons, and it no way is it interesting.

Hokko Life begins the exact same way Animal Crossing does. A human villager arrives in a town full of animals—arriving by train, no less—and is immediately tasked with taking a ramshackle town, and making it into a place people might actually want to visit. Players will spend their days gathering crafting materials, opening up parts of the town that have fallen into disrepair, and building homes for new residents to move in.

Right from the get-go I was already bored with the story, because it doesn’t really offer any original ideas; it’s just Animal Crossing. That’s not to say that Hokko Life couldn’t or shouldn’t draw inspiration from Animal Crossing, but I hoped it would at least have some unique elements to differentiate it from the game that clearly inspired it. Sure, Stardew Valley is essentially Story of Seasons, but at least its narrative begins differently and it has a corporations vs. traditionalism theme running underneath it.

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Gameplay is, as I mentioned earlier; an amalgam of Animal Crossing and Story of Seasons—although since New Horizons added crops, it’s really just that game. Players will run around their town chopping trees, mining stone and catching bugs/fish in order to build homes, craft furniture, and complete villager requests. As the game opens up, more areas will become available for resources, such as a mine or a small forest.

“There’s a distinct lack of personality that just makes the game feel completely lifeless…”

However, unlike Animal Crossing, Hokko Life doesn’t operate on a real-time clock, so players have a bit more freedom to move through the game and advance at the speed they wish. I find this to be at odds with the game’s core design philosophy, which is so much inspired by Animal Crossing; because the game moves at such an incredibly slow pace that I found myself very quickly losing interest.

Hokko Life definitely wants you to take it slow, and move at your own pace, but it doesn’t really provide new tasks with every new in-game day that makes for a satisfying sense of progression. It takes the core ideas from Animal Crossing and Story of Seasons, and tries to mash them together in a way that doesn’t really work. Animal Crossing’s slow pace works because you have a real-time day to get things done, and it builds anticipation for the next day by making you wait. Without Story of Seasons‘ multitude of small tasks to complete in a day to keep the pace moving, you wind up with a sim game where it feels like there’s not a lot to do—even if that’s not the case.

Hokko Life (Switch) Review 4

But it also locks certain features away in bizarre ways that seem counterintuitive. For example, item customization doesn’t come from a specific moment, where the game makes a point to let you know you have it, rather asking a villager if they need any help—this game’s version of Animal Crossing’s errands. Since most of them are usually pretty inconsequential, I didn’t even think to ask a villager what they might want, since it’s always an unfun fetch quest, but sometimes Hokko Life can have requests unlock items for crafting, so it can pay to check in once in a while.

What was weird was even after a brief tutorial on how customization works, it was locked off to me. Based on what I’ve seen, it’s the game’s most impressive feature since it allows you to add shapes and features to furniture to create unique shapes and designs, but I had so quickly lost interest in the game that I’ll probably never tool around with it.

Visually, Hokko Life is pretty uninspired. Early game screens showed character designs that looked a bit more Animal Crossing-esque—with cute chibi characters with massive heads—but the final product has characters that look like anthropomorphic plushies, and they all just look kind of generic. The town itself looks fairly stock, and it lacks a lot of polish that could’ve helped the game stand out.

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Going into homes sees the character clip into the door while opening it, animations feel a bit choppy, and for some reason there’s an animation for getting a tool out of your pockets, but not for putting it back so tools just phase out of your hands when you want to unequip them which just feels amature.

And it’s not just visual polish the game lacks. There’s a distinct lack of personality that just makes the game feel completely lifeless. Villagers just hobble around gormlessly, sometimes clipping into furniture; when you see two characters talking to each other, you can’t join the conversation like you can in Animal Crossing—not that any of the villagers have interesting dialogue to begin with.

If there’s one thing Hokko Life does right, it’s definitely the item/town customization. One of the biggest complaints “fans” had with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, was how—despite being able to place items on the island—item placement felt very restrictive. Hokko Life does offer players a lot more freedom in this department, allowing you to rotate items on a 360 degree access and place items almost anywhere.

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Furthermore, the aforementioned item customization is pretty unique and does offer a lot of room for interesting designs—almost like a more advanced version of the item creation from the oft forgotten MySims on the Wii. Players can not only add shapes and features to furniture, but the depth of colouring for individual parts, and even clothing was truly amazing.

My only issue with items in Hokko Life is they’re not at all interactable. You can’t turn on TVs, or turn on blenders to watch them whip up the liquid inside. You can pretty much sit on chairs and that’s as far as I’ve seen.

I tried to give Hokko Life a chance, honestly. I really didn’t want to let my love of Animal Crossing taint my potential enjoyment of this game. But every time I sat down to play it, I just wondered why I wasn’t playing the better versions of the games that it was clearly inspired by. I think perhaps if you don’t own a Switch, you might get something from this as the “Animal Crossing, but on different consoles,” kind of game; but that’s about it.

A retail version of the game reviewed was provided by the publisher. You can read more about CGMagazine reivew policies here.

Final Thoughts

REVIEW SCORE

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