Over recent years several successful titles such as Braid, Journey and Flower have arguably blurred the line between art and videogames. Some would even say games like Rez and Entwined should be included in that all-too-strange category which can only be described as “not quite interactive enough to be a classed as a complete videogame, yet imaginative and creative enough to create an impact similar to a piece of art”. Hohokum attempts to be included amongst these titles, and has racked up an impressive amount of praise in the process.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I honestly don’t see what all the fuss is about.
Hohokum places you in control of what can only be described as an “eyeball snake” – fitting, as this is how the game controls: much like the classic videogame, Snake. By rotating your avatar around each area, your mission is to bump into anything and everything in order to trigger a certain animation or the next sequence of events.
It would be a relaxing proposition, if it weren’t so random and pointless. There are no guides, nor instructions as to what you’re doing, and as all areas are open from the start it all too soon becomes a frustrating and futile exercise in backtracking, whilst hopefully stumbling upon that one nondescript piece of scenery that you need to bump into in order to complete the stage.
Looking on the positive side, there is at least some variety. Seventeen stages are on offer, each with its own look, each expertly blending sound and music together to create a believable, if slightly flat world. Each stage has its own set of primary and secondary goals to achieve, too; but unfortunately this is where the positives start to dry up. Goals feel very samey: whether you’re passing through stars in the sky to make shapes, or passing through fish in order to collect them, it’s all feels rather passive. Had there been some kind of narrative tying all the disparate stages together, then it would have lent itself to a sense of progression and greater coherence. As none of this exists, your actions serve little purpose.
In order for videogames to be considered on par with art, they need to at least evoke some kind of emotion in the player. Flower gave a positive and relaxing experience, having you soar through luscious areas whilst collecting petals floating in the breeze in order to unlock further levels. Futuristic games like Rez or Child of Eden, via clever usage of sound and movement create a synaesthesia-like state. Hohokum tries so desperately to emulate these artistic heights, but fails due to a lack of clear design and vision.
Moost depressing about Hohokum though is the fact that for all its pointlessness, it’s actually well-presented and polished. Aesthetically, it’s a pleasing mix of Loco Roco and Pixeljunk’s Eden, and the excellent soundtrack has contributions from the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Even if you never even play the game, it’s well worth giving the soundtrack a listen on Spotify. Overall, the controls are tight and everything appears to work as they should – Hohokum simply lacks any kind of direction or focus to hold your interest over long periods. Too frustrating to be relaxing, too random to be coherent, too pointless to have any meaning – Hohokum is a game sorely in need of an identity of its own, rather than one patchworked together from existing titles.
Of course, art is subjective, and can often mean something very different to every individual. Videogame reviews are equally subjective, though by and large not considered as art. Either way, Hohokum is a videogame, and as such can’t get by on simply being considered as an artform; it needs to provide entertainment value, or to make the player feel as though they have received value for money (however nebulous a term that may be).
Unfortunately, with zero storyline or guidance, Hohokum tries to blur the line between videogames and art, but is unsuccessful in its endeavors – instead coming across as little more than a pointless interactive screensaver.