Developer: Skrollcat Studio
Publisher: PM Studios
Genre(s): Indie, Platformer, Adventure, Puzzle, Action
Platform: Switch (also available on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation)
Age Rating: PEGI 7
Release Date: 24/08/2021
A code was provided for review purposes
After playing multiple high-octane adventures, I took a step back on my adventures with Hoa. Instead of incentivizing challenging endeavours or tricky puzzles, Hoa encapsulates natural beauty and fulfilling adventures. Does this offer a breath of fresh air? Or was I looking for something more rewarding? Find out in this Rapid Review.
The sound design in Hoa instantly piqued my interest. It features an orchestral soundtrack that encapsulates a peaceful and charming environment. The music was one of the leading elements in the game. It kept me moving, at least in the beginning. Though the soundtrack is not something that is required for a game to be good, I found the soundtrack to be a little repetitive. With a few exceptions, the areas seemed to blend. Very rarely did the music for one area stand out from another. Though it felt very similar, the soundtrack made for a calm and soothing adventure.
To supplement the atmosphere created by the soundtrack, Hoa features stunning visuals and depictive art. Each area features a large creature that is unique and helps differentiate each area from the last. The visuals help establish the wholesome environment featured in Hoa.
Attack of the A.I.
Moreover, the story adds yet another way in which the game is adorable. I played as a garden fairy who had survived the wrath of robots taking over the forest. As I continued my journey, I learned more about the past and the people who helped her survive. Many of the bosses played a large role in her survival. It was fascinating seeing how each character had an impact on the life of the garden fairy.
Although the story was charming, there was nothing that truly captivated me. It did not feature dynamic themes, gripping events, or revealing characters. It simply established the plot. Considering the focus of the game was on the atmosphere, I was disappointed by the minimalist story, and wanted something with more social commentary or dynamic characters.
Even though the story content was lacklustre, the lack of rewarding gameplay was where the game faltered the most. Hoa is a puzzle platformer. This typically implies that tricky puzzles are put in place instead of challenging obstacles. To my dismay, no such puzzles existed. I simply navigated the world. For some titles, simply exploring is enough of a reason to continue playing. Unfortunately, many things prevent Hoa from achieving the same praise some other titles do.
The first thing that disappointed me was the primary way of progression. Most levels were completed in the same fashion. Navigate the world, activate the secret runes that awaken the powerful deity, and search for five butterflies that grant additional power. Even though each level featured different layouts, the repetitive objectives hindered my experience while playing. Not only that, but I had a map to guide me through each level. This made collecting the butterflies and uncovering the runes seem like more of a fetch quest than something important. I had little difficulty collecting each item and struggled to feel excited after beating a level.
Watch out for Danger!
This is solidified by one part of Hoa. For the first time on her journey, the garden fairy encounters danger. She needs to evade obstacles, jump from dangerously high heights, and run for her life. This action is the perfect opportunity to invigorate and excite players, especially considering it would have a different objective than the other challenges. Unfortunately, this entire segment is played out by a cutscene. Sure, it was an interesting thing to watch, but it felt as though the entire struggle was simply alleviated by a higher power, and as though I did not have any impact on the journey after all.
Though the adventuring left a lot to be desired, the garden fairy in Hoa had a nice set of movement options. As I collected butterflies, I was granted additional options for my fairy to perform. I could jump, float in the air for a brief period, and even move heavy objects. She was easy to understand and easy to master. Due to the low skill required to master the fairy, the puzzles themselves rarely required much thought. I often simply completed the puzzles and moved on. Even though the fairy had well-designed movement options, having the puzzles revolve primarily around these abilities inhibited how difficult and cohesive these puzzles could be.
Plateaued Level Design
Not only were the puzzles basic, but the level designs were as well. The levels were very atmospheric. I always encountered a beautiful display of assets, and there were always new assets featured in new levels. Unfortunately, the levels did not build upon old concepts. They would introduce new ideas constantly without revisiting old ones or combining concepts together. Everything on offer was very basic. It did not require mastery of the assets, nor did it encourage me to remember how each object worked. The puzzles did not continue growing as the game went on.
Finally, and perhaps the most disappointing element of the game was the length. It was short. As soon as the levels began getting interesting, the game ended. It was still introducing the basic elements as it ended. I would have liked to see additional levels that encouraged mastery of mechanics or combined assets together. Even if they wanted to prevent the game from being challenging the developers could have included additional objectives, collectables, or hidden levels to encourage exploring in a vibrant and beautiful world.
Though there are certainly some enjoyable aspects related to the gameplay, it falls short due to the lack of dynamic puzzles, ulterior objectives, and cohesive level designs. I found myself getting bored of completing the same mundane tasks to complete levels. That being said, the levels themselves feature some beautiful atmospheres.
Overall, I was disappointed by Hoa. It had a nice story, but there was no character development, and the characters did not leave a lasting impact on me. The music was good, but the various environments had very similar music, and it did not help distinguish between the various areas. The gameplay was most disappointing of all, boring me, and pushing the same repetitive gameplay loop. Though there can be some fun to be had in Hoa, there are better alternatives at the same price point. If you are looking for a relaxing adventure in nature, check out my NUTS review.
Rapid Reviews Rating
3 out of 5
You can purchase Hoa from the Nintendo eShop here
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