Like the Dude from The Big Lebowski, the chill and super casual single-eyed snake at the center of Hohokum simply abides. Perhaps it will float its way into the twilight skies, collecting stardust and using it to fill in the constellations, or perhaps it will simply flutter alongside the abstract architecture, building up speed by gliding alongside the ridges of the geometric shapes. Irritated, perhaps it will carom through a potter’s workshop, smashing all of his carefully crafted cookware. Maybe, in a more helpful mood, it might volunteer as a means of transportation for the Adventure Time-y citizens, following their vague, pictographic directions.
Like the Ouroboros-esque creatures it contains, Hohokum isn’t at all concerned with what you do, making similarly minimal games like Flow (where there’s at least a modicum of progression) seem complex by comparison. Journey has long been held up as the standard for this new breed of games where the exploration is more of the point than the destination, but the almost maddeningly nonlinear Hohokum truly embraces that feeling. And, unlike Doki-Doki Universe, which offered a similar freedom and lack of real pressure, you’re never provided with any instructions or goals beyond explaining the controls (one button speeds you up, one slows you down). You simply fly through a series of interconnected portals, finding things to interact with. It’s a bit like Myst... as interpreted by Katamari Damacy.
For those who want a more traditional game, Hohokum’s end goal is to find your 15 friends, often by helping the denizens of each weird and wonderful world. But because the nonverbal requests of these citizens are so odd (like the sea captain who longs to see a mermaid), it’s just as enjoyable to get lost in the minute charms of each level, wandering about without the pressure of a timer or a scoring mechanism. Scouring the levels for the closed eyes hidden within them (a literally eye-opening experience) can be a chore—or you can simply give in and stumble upon them. The same goes for trophy achievements, all of which are secret and meant to be discovered by chance, not through hours of grinding or feats of technical expertise. These are just aesthetic accomplishments, after all, and while you’ll eventually figure out what the game wants you to do, from waking up the bees to collect their honey to helping those lonely kids gather material for a kite, it’s just as much fun to simply fly about, taking in the sights. (For example: the way anyone riding on your back as you travel beneath a giant, weeping umbrella will open miniature parasols of their own.) The single-screen transitions between zones distill this concept to the core; they’re beautiful, interactive playgrounds in which there’s nothing to unlock, and everything to experience.
Once you do start playing to win, however, Hohokum’s charming design works against itself. It can be difficult to identify the zones in which you’ve already found your sinuous sidekicks, and the game doesn’t distinguish between portals that you’ve already traveled through and ones that you’ve newly stumbled upon. Moreover, the trial and error associated with some of the tasks can be finicky, especially when it appears as if you should be able to do something, only to find that you’ve overlooked some obscure object. And borrowed bits of gameplay are also awkward: The controls aren’t right for a bullet-hell battle in which your simian passengers hurl fruit at an irate elephant, and without any sort of health bar, it’s impossible to tell if your actions are even having an effect. Then again, if getting to the end is all that matters, this already isn’t the game for you. Even in its most tantalizingly recursive and head-trippy moments, Hohokum never purports to be anything other than a serene and relaxing experience. Blaming a game this casual and calm for being obtuse is like yelling at the masseuse for doing too good of a job.
Hohokum is now available on the Sony Entertainment Network Store for the PS4, PS3, and PSVita.