Hohokum opens to a black expanse with no tutorial text or cutscene to guide you. You’ll use the sticks to send a long snake gliding throughout the expanse, and as you explore the environment you will come to grips with the subtleties of the game’s simple control scheme, delivered via environmental prompts hovering in the background. It’s a simple and elegant way to impart the game’s control scheme, and it immediately defies your expectations of what, exactly, Hohokum is going to be.
As you experiment in the large opening room, you’ll come to discover a group of portals indicating that you’re in a sort of hub zone. By guiding the snake through portals, you can move between numerous sub-worlds, each of which comes along with its own themes, characters and objectives. The game doesn’t bother itself to introduce you to many of these objectives, so it’s up to you to discover them on your own through exploration and experimentation.
The core gameplay loop of Hohokum is one that defies easy categorization. When you enter a new area for the first time, you’ll have to spend a few minutes coming to grips with the layout and style of the world. Some areas feature light puzzles, while others might ask you to entertain groups of jovial NPCs with rides on your back. There’s a lot of variety of the gameplay, but strangely enough, the game doesn’t necessarily require you to engage with most of it. You can just as easily spend a session with Hohokum flying around, enjoying the colorful visuals and mesmerizing soundtrack while you relax.
There’s a certain beauty to the way that the game leaves you free to glide through its colorful worlds. The gliding controls themselves are highly tactile. Analog feedback is granular and precise without sacrificing momentum, and you can use the face buttons to manipulate the speed at which you glide. It’s easy to get into a rhythm as you glide around the levels, poking and prodding at the various environmental interactions just to see what happens. Each level technically has its own victory conditions, but you can have just as much fun relaxing in the beautiful worlds.
In fact, if you approach the game with the intention of “solving” each level, you might find yourself frustrated by the lack of instruction that many of the objectives provide you with. The feedback you receive from some interactions can be a little too difficult to correctly interpret, and you’ll have to mess around a lot to find some of the answers. The game is at its best when it combines its objectives with its freeform structure. Most of the early-game objectives are solved naturally through exploration, providing you with a nice little dopamine rush to accompany you on your travels.
There are also plenty of collectibles scattered throughout the environments to provide a sort of rough structure to the exploration as well. Pop up the pause menu with a quick tap of the Options button, and a little man will appear to tell you how many collectibles you’ve grabbed out of the current area. Players who are looking for a little more structure in their experience will likely take this as incentive to keep searching, but placing the collectibles so prominently in the menu drives a wedge between the two play styles at the heart of the game. Objective-driven players probably won’t be playing Hohokum in the first place, while the more meditative players don’t need to be reminded of the collectibles they've yet to grab each time they open the pause menu.
That’s a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, though, and Hohokum provides plenty of charm and variety outside of its collectibles. There’s an immediacy to the reactions that your actions cause, and not in the way you’re probably used to seeing in video games. You’ll be spreading color, music and joy through the world, and that’s a rare experience to have in a game. When a chance like that comes around, it’s worth taking.
Hohokum is a pleasantly strange break from reality. It’s filled with color, personality and charm, and if you can overlook the lack of game-like structure to find your own way in the game’s psychedelic world, you’ll find a satisfying meditative experience backed by precise controls.