Hohokum review: Not hokum, just ho-hum

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Danny Cowan
August 15, 2014 5:30 PM
Hohokum review: Not hokum, just ho-hum
Hohokum is essentially a playable cartoon. Minutes after starting it up, I was reminded of Pinball Number Count, Yellow Submarine, and other animated works from the '60s and '70s in the way Hohokum overloads the senses with contrasting imagery tied to a unifying theme. Like Sesame Street's interstitial cartoons in particular, Hohokum often feels like it was made not because it's trying to say something important, but simply because it looks cool.

There isn't much gameplay or challenge beneath its beautiful exterior, though. Hohokum's audiovisual splendor is irresistible and you won't regret the time you spend with it, but the end result can't quite gel into a complete and fulfilling experience.Gameplay in Hohokum is flowing and intuitive, offering little in the way of overt instruction. You'll suss out its mechanics by exploring its colorful worlds and brushing your character – a long ... string ... worm ... thing with an eye on its head – up against its backdrops. Your curiosity is rewarded with visual flourishes and pleasing audio cues that accompany almost every interaction within the game's psychedelic worlds.

Hohokum forces players to construct their own meaning in its often minimalist visuals. You won't be able to intuit the way the game's flora and fauna will react to your presence through observation alone; it's only through direct interaction that you'll discover their purpose. Unlike many games, Hohokum's gameplay is less structured and more free-flowing, allowing players to travel between its many worlds at their leisure.

Within some of these worlds are vaguely defined goals that require experimentation to discover. One area asks you to ferry residents around a multi-tiered water park, while another has you serving drinks to a wedding party floating atop a purple ocean. Fulfilling each area's unspoken requirements frees one of your wormy friends, who rejoin you at the game's hub area.

Like Proteus and other recent experimental games, Hohokum is less about gameplay and more about providing a memorable and ostensibly meaningful experience for the player. Once you boil down Hohokum's visual noise, though, you'll find that its underlying mechanics are actually very simple. Your reflexes are not tested at any point, and objectives often devolve into finding one interactive element and dragging it to another interactive element. The game's trophy list reveals that it's possible to see and do everything in under an hour, though your first play will take considerably longer.

At its best, Hohokum is a calming experience, soothing the senses with its flowing visuals and excellent sound design. At worst, it feels like a search for one particular strand of hay in the middle of a massive haystack – its blithe aesthetic becomes frustrating when you're trying to find a key gameplay element amidst large expanses of pretty but useless fluff, and monotony sets in after wandering for long stretches of time with no progress to show for it.

Hohokum offers more than you'd expect but less than you'd want; without gameplay depth to back up its visuals, it sparks the imagination but doesn't kindle it. Its audiovisual melange is hypnotic up to a point, but its charm is fleeting, leaving you with a hollow gameplay experience at its core. Still, I'm glad I spent time in Hohokum's whimsical world. Its design sense is unquestionably sound, and it's easy to lose yourself in its cheerful facade, if for only a few hours.

This review is based on a pre-release PSN download of the PlayStation Vita version of Hohokum, provided by Sony. Images: Honeyslug. Hohokum is a Cross-Buy game, meaning one purchase grants access to the PS3, PS4 and Vita versions.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.
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