A scene from Hohokum (GIF Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

A scene from Hohokum (GIF Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Hohokum, a video game where you play a long, thin worm that changes color based on direction, isn’t just an art-ier version of Snakes. Released last month for PS4 and PS Vita, Hohokum is considered an “art video game” by developer HoneySlug, who created it in collaboration with British artist and illustrator Richard Hogg. Last year, while the game was still in production, Hogg explained to Jonathan Holmes of Destructoid that there was a constant struggle between keeping Hohokum esoteric and creating a video game. Hogg states that while it’s definitely a game, it’s also a collection of ideas.

From Hohokum (screenshot by the author)

From Hohokum (screenshot by the author)

In recent reviews, the game has been called “shallow” for its simplistic gameplay and for “those with a limited history with games” though the game’s real aim might be more along the lines of a piece of art, or a series of artworks, than something a fan boy might gush about.

Hogg’s art style for the game is graphic and heavily inspired by the 1960s Pop design aesthetics. Think Saul Bass, or a more neutral-toned Peter Max, and the lowbrow art movement. Hohokum’s world is filled with bouncing, brightly colored shapes, and stylized trees and animals. Your worm-like character floats around in a two-dimensional game world, touching objects and carrying other non-playable characters around to complete small puzzles. The soundtrack, which was developed in partnership with the record label Ghostly, features contemporary electronic music artists
Shigeto, Matthew Dear, Tycho, Willits & Sakamoto, and Com Truise. Each level has its own pleasant and ambient background track that only abruptly changes once you’ve completed a level or, in some cases, once you’ve turned a switch on within the level. In some areas, it’s like an interactive Dr. Seuss book, complete with sociopolitical commentary, though without any of the rhyming. For example, one puzzle can only be completed by your character using sludge to destroy an industrial factory that’s contaminating the area.

From Hohokum (screenshot by the author)

From Hohokum (screenshot by the author)

Many of the game’s settings are trippy floating islands that might harbor miniature beings or angry elephants. There’s a roller coaster and a wedding guest party and a vertical, hundred-row orchard. Symbolic ‘eyes’ are affixed to everything, biological or otherwise. Ultimately, you have to make contact with these beings and help solve their problems, even though it’s unclear if what you’re doing is exactly what they want.

Works by Yayoi Kusama, "My Youth" (2013), and "My Heart" (2013) (via davidzwirner.com)

Works by Yayoi Kusama, “My Youth” (2013), and “My Heart” (2013) (via davidzwirner.com)

Unlike a Dr. Suess book, Hohokum defies the traditional linear narrative, as all of the gameplay takes place through a series of scenes that one can return to at their leisure by re-entering a wormhole for the designated area. Even Proteus, a game that similarly pushed the boundaries of gameplay, has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Hohokum doesn’t have dialogue or even clear instructions to explain the mechanics of the game. Puzzles must be solved visually and intuitively. There also isn’t a pause button, so the game will play indefinitely, until it’s turned off, and your character can never die.

A view on Hohokum (GIF Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

A view on Hohokum (GIF Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Some of the scenes could be akin to Yayoi Kusama’s series of paintings from her popular I Who Have Arrived In Heaven show at David Zwirner last fall. Especially “The Way To My Love” (2013) and “My Youth” (2013) — it’s the organic shapes and the bright colors and the eyes — the millions and millions of eyes. Even the loading screens in between scenes present abstract pattern paintings. While there isn’t much to interact with in these instances, they create a pleasant abstract field of shapes while your worm moves from one wormhole to the next in order to advance.

What Hohokum lacks though, at times, is a complete push into the unknown, in terms of artistic style and aesthetics. For a game that relies on psychedelic forms and themes for entertainment, the game simply doesn’t go far enough. It’s too reliant on known shapes and forms to communicate — a circle is a circle, a tree is a tree. This could be what Hogg means when he mentions he and the developers have struggled to keep the game from being too “videogame-y” and having levels that fall into video game tropes, such as an underwater level, a forest level, or another that takes place among ancient ruins. On one hand, the visual experience is gorgeous and takes a number of risks, but on the other, it feels as though it tries too hard to make up for its unexpected elements.

Though, for those that love visual stimulation, Hohokum demands a complete surrender of your optical facilities in order to play it. The process of carefully inspecting elements within the game is almost like physically interacting with paintings in a gallery.

Hohokum is available on PS3, PS4 and other gaming systems.

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Haniya Rae

Haniya Rae is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She regularly contributes to Architectural Digest and Guernica Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @haniyarae.