Perhaps the most intriguing PlayStation 4 game I played at this year's Tokyo Game Show came in the form of Hohokum, a title that by all appearances has no particular need to be running on next-generation hardware.
I don't mean to disparage the game by any means -- there's far more to life than high-end graphics -- and in fact I appreciate the fact that Sony chose to showcase a decidedly arty project like Hohokum amid all the flash and sizzle of the PS4's early lineup. It made a pleasant contrast to most of the other games on offer, with a simple art style complemented by chill music and totally nebulous play goals emphasizing discovery through relaxation.
Hohokum presents a world of stylized objects and backgrounds rendered with flat colors and no outlines. Much of the "challenge" of the game (and I use the term "challenge" in the loosest sense of the word) rests in discerning precisely which elements of the environment are interactive. The second challenge: Figuring out what those interactive factors actually do. Certain bits of the background appear to respond to the passage of the player's avatar (a curious multicolored snake that flies freely through the air), but the purpose of their interactions often takes some puzzling out.
For example, you can circle around dandelion-like puff balls and send their seeds rising into the air, but to what purpose? There's no clear point behind it unless you follow their slow ascent and discover that a number of tiny women living above the puffs will grab on to passing seeds and ride them to the upper portions of the world. You can bounce around a field of balls that work much like pinball bumpers, flinging you back and forth and changing size each time you strike one. If you manage to turn all the bumpers the same size, a tiny person will appear to ride your avatar around until you figure out her personal goal (acquiring a sort of pinecone-like object for her and helping her transport it to a door atop a ziggurat on the top level).
Sometimes you manage to interact with objects that respond inconsistently to your actions. Other things you can do appear to have no bearing on the world at all. Eventually, I even managed to open up some sort of portal that let me abandon the area I was in to explore another -- though I got the impression I'd be able to backtrack and finish up various unresolved odds and ends if need be.
The whole thing feels like it's meant to be a puzzle of sorts, but a low-stress one. Certainly Hohokum won't be everyone's cup of tea, but gamers who appreciate a low-stress experience that rewards inquisitiveness and observation while listening to mellow music should enjoy it. It belongs to the same school of design as Flower and the odd Pixeljunk title, and while I hope for some kind of surprising underlying PS4-specific feature -- not a visual trick, but some sort of secret unlocked through network connectivity or social sharing or something -- Hohokum makes the very welcome statement that not every game need push the bleeding edge of technology to be intriguing.
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