Hohokum is rare and effective union of art, activity, and music. Games, even those with an open fondness of form above function, typically operate under a rigid designation of themes. Meaning is assigned wherever significance is found, but it wasn't difficult to define the raw emotion that gave life to Journey, Everyday the Same Dream, or Where is My Heart. The creation and progression of an open personal response is a holy grail of emotive game design - and Hohokum's found it.
A casual glace at Hohokum probably leaves a weird impression. Players appear to control a series of oddly shapes kites with eyeballs, each one speeding up, slowing down, and bouncing off the walls with reckless abandon. Each kite-friend is quickly sent away to his or her own special world, leaving control of one unique kite to the player. Hohokum never explicitly states what to do from here, or anywhere for that matter; completing overt goals, checking off secondary objectives, and experiencing all of the subtlety in-between are trusted to the player.
After a bit of poking around, Hohokum's mechanisms are revealed with relative simplicity. Each rectangular level hosts a subversive challenge for the player to expose and solve. Cracking the code liberates one of your kite's friends and wraps up the goal of that particular level. Levels are connected via a series of portals, each eventually funneling your kite back into a familiar hub-world. A peripheral task involves the player carefully examining the background to reveal hidden "eyes" throughout each level, and there are more than hundred to find across Hohokum's fifteen worlds.
Expressed purely through player mechanics, Hohokum isn't all that different from a normal adventure game. Using your kite, you fly around in every direction looking for bits of the level to interactive with and, context firmly hand, search for the veritable missing piece of the puzzle. The consistent insanity behind each level's context insures that no two solutions are ever the same, allowing Hohokum all of the necessary space to exorcise its whimsical demons.
Plenty of games have shuffled the player through wild scenarios, but Hohokum's rapid-fire delivery of surreal nonsense knows few equals. In one level I broke petals off flowers that turned into magnets, which I then planted and used to attract monkey-things to ride on my kite in order to properly combat a massive elephant-riding horde. In another, I had to slip into a separate dimension and collect clouds for a slumbering bird-creature before extracting him from his dream world and throwing a huge pool party for all of his friends. Hohokum is packed to the gills with delightful madness and it begs the player to indulge every second of it.
The demands of a completionist's heart require an extensive amount of time spent looking for Hohokum’s hidden eyes. This leads a gradual appreciation of Hohokum's soundtrack, not necessarily by its insistence on reactive shifts in melody, but rather through the meditative quality behind its calm and collected rhythm. Culled exclusively from artists signed to Ghostly International, a record label with a penchant for relaxing electronic exceptionalism, each piece of music fits perfectly in sync with Hohokum's mission. Tycho makes the most significant contribution, with "Coastal Brake," "L," and "A Walk" practically defining Hohokum's lush soundtrack, but poignant offerings from Michna and Shigeto stand out as well.
What sets Hohokum apart is transformation from a thinly veiled point-and-click adventure into a nostalgia induction apparatus; or rather its diverse series of styles, themes, and music reached out and affected parts of my brain I didn't know demanded affection. Unaware of any potential personal investment, Hohokum issued a call-and-response to specific and relatable experiences. A level where I was helping people along an amusement park reminded me of building roller coasters K’nex with my dad when I was ten. Another area filled with pastel dots looked exactly like my mom's old room in my grandmother's home. The blue-on-white grid layout of a different level reminded me of staring at Sega Master System game boxes and dreaming I could afford to own them all. Collecting monkey creatures against Michna's "Emerald Plateaus" somehow sent me back to sleepless nights in Japan listening to Fever Ray's "Triangle Walks." Everywhere Hohokum took me felt like an invitation to explore some dormant memory inside my head.
Even without anecdotal nostalgia dives, the strength of Hohokum’s art and accompanying music are a gateway to ruminate on its vague implications. One level featured countless uprooted trees on the periphery and two different tribes on platforms in the center. In one corner were a bunch of red, violent saws sticking out of trees. Your kite friend is unlocked by finding a way to unite the two tribes, perhaps resolving their differences and potential ruination along the way. Hohokum never states explanation or resolution, but it's not hard to fall into its world and consider its consequences. Genuine art is meant to evoke a response from the consumer, and Hohokum's diverse assortment of imaginative endeavors makes it easy to get lost inside its world.
Hohokum's levels are huge, but every single asset feels deliberately constructed and loaded with accompanying detail. I was carrying ten creatures on my kite in an amusement park level, and each one had an animation to bring out an umbrella when it started raining. The same thing happened when I lined up other creatures at an ice cream stand. There's an overwhelming sense of playfulness and positivity inside all of Hohokum's apparent nonsense, not unlike the surreal and silly foundations that built Keita Takahashi's Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy (and it's no coincidence that Takahashi contributed art to Hohokum's credits roll). Hohokum isn't only the antithesis to the grim violence that's come to define popular gaming, but also a declarative statement to the power of amusement. Games can be as rich and contemplative as easily as any other expressive medium.