Hoa Review – Ghibli Vibes

Hoa Review – Ghibli Vibes

Sometimes, puzzle games don’t need to be explicitly challenging to draw in the fan base. Sure, a bit of challenge is nice, but there are times I wouldn’t mind being able to sit back and progress through a game without getting stuck on a puzzle. Developer Scrollcat Studio makes a strong case for these types of puzzle adventures in their new game Hoa. By limiting the challenge, players can pay attention to the gorgeous environments and whimsical creatures.

Hoa is centered around the playable character, Hoa, who has just returned to an island. The narrative is light, but you realize that she’s been here before. The creatures met along the way inform Hoa of times they’ve protected her and her family and how it’s great to have her back. Evidently, metallic creatures threaten the environment, and Hoa has returned to bring the forest back to greatness. The narrative evolves over the 4-hour runtime and really comes together with a few emotional beats, but from the beginning, you know that there’s a reason why she’s here; you just need to put all the pieces together.

Hoa doesn’t have much to say, but you kind of shape her personality through the various actions. What helps the light storytelling immensely is the soundtrack that features piano tunes that act as waves across the adventure. The music never seems to break. Instead, it simply morphs into a new commission in a similar key, which almost reacts to your actions. I felt absorbed by this music through each area and was always surprised each time the melody changed.

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Hoa is an environment-based puzzle game that doesn’t require a vast knowledge of the genre. Instead, you always seem to be moving forward unless you are slowed down by the beautiful environmental design. The areas are hand-drawn, which makes every animation have the appearance of a cartoon. Given that nothing is pre-rendered, though, it’s sometimes difficult to see what can be jumped over or not.

For example, one particular branch may exist in the background, but another will block you from progress, causing you to guess at times. Further, some ropes can be swung from, but others can’t actually be grabbed onto. This requires a keen eye to spot which versions of these interactable objects can actually be interacted with.

Puzzles are light in the beginning but do require some thought in the final hour of gameplay. Nothing becomes overbearing, though, as these puzzles appear with no explanation from the game, so, with that in mind, they don’t become highly complicated. I think this design choice works fine for the experience as you’ll be tested in some aspects, but nothing will limit your progression.

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The goal of each level revolves around collecting butterflies and glyphs to awaken a forest creature who will grant you a new ability. There isn’t any backtracking, though, so abilities are simply used as a way to change up the next set of puzzles. You can easily see the location of each collectible item on the map, which makes it easy to collect everything before interacting with the main creature, who will request all the butterflies before allowing you to progress. It’s a simple gameloop and maybe one you don’t need to rush through. However, treating each stage as something you need to speed run may limit its impact, so I suggest going at it without the desire for any significant changes in the formula.

I will say that some puzzles do require you to backtrack within the stage, just a little. However, this causes frustration because Hoa can be a bit on the slow side. Further, it’s tough to gauge height sometimes since Hoa’s jumps are constantly evolving, making it tough to gauge if you can even get up to a platform. Regardless, a few minutes of frustration on an overall relaxing adventure isn’t going to take away from the gameplay.

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Hoa doesn’t want to be a challenging, head-scratching puzzle adventure, and that’s okay. What it provides a gorgeously designed experience with a brilliantly executed soundtrack. The gameplay never hinders the player’s progression through this beautiful world made even more immersive due to its beautiful sound design. It’s easy to lose yourself in moments of gameplay as everything comes together for a wholesome experience.

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