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REVIEW: Hohokum (PS4)

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It is difficult to describe “Hohokum” to a video game fan. The game actively avoids much of the trappings and language that define video games. Instead, “Hohokum” is better explained in terms more commonly found in discussions of music and art. And yet, “Hohokum” is very much a video game with goals and obstacles and rewards. It is just charmingly subtle about how it presents them to you.

In “Hohokum,” you fly an abstracted snake thing – called the “Long Mover,” not that the game ever tells you that – through multiple marginally-connected worlds. One area appears to be a water park; another is a forest of floating trees. On your first glance, you will have no idea what you’re supposed to do, so you do the only thing you can do: you float your Long Mover around the screen. Sometimes you bounce off of things. Sometimes people and critters jump on top of you for a ride. Sometimes your simple act of flying over something triggers it to do something else. And that is all you need to do in “Hohokum.”

Eventually, you figure out that each area has a puzzle, obfuscated among all the happy revelers and sprouting flowers. No obvious instruction is given. You’re expected to piece the mystery together based on what you see. For example, you will have to find a way to get the population of a small village to fly kites. Depending on the level, this ranges from engagingly rewarding to completely off-putting. The good news here is that nothing is particularly difficult, it just may take plenty of exploration for you to identify and solve each intricate little challenge.

You’ll know you’ve hit pay dirt when you unlock one of the Long Mover’s friends, as the appearance of another snake-like pal indicates you have solved the area’s puzzle. Complete the puzzles, find all of the friends, and enjoy the visuals… which may best be described as 1960s artist Peter Max meeting Cartoon Network’s “Adventure Time.”

That’s really all there is to “Hohokum.” It’s a bit of a push to recommend, as the easygoing gameplay creates a love it or hate divide. “Hohokum” is not especially interested in explaining itself to the player. Either you get it, or you don’t, and if “adorably psychedelic exploration game” isn’t your jam, you’ll likely err towards the “not getting it” part of the scale.

Even if you are inclined towards games with an attractive, arthouse vibe, “Hohokum” may disappoint for not going far enough. Once a puzzle is solved, it’s solved. The only replay value lies in chasing some of the obscure PlayStation Trophy challenges or in finding all of the hidden collectibles. And that means crawling over the same levels another dozen times.

“Hohokum” has such a great start. The music, the visuals and the gameplay all come together to form an excitingly appealing mass of color and life. However, once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. While “Hohokum” certainly stands as an example of beautifully unusual art in gaming, you are unlikely to draw more meaning out of it than the surface-level jollies it provides.

This review is based on product supplied by the publisher. “Hohokum” is available for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. Image courtesy Sony Computer Entertainment America.