Blockbuster Things Come From Small Studios
Indie development studio, Skrollcat Studio, brings us Hoa, a colorful hand-drawn puzzle platformer that draws inspiration from many high-profile anime production studios. There are also traces of Vietnamese mythologies and inspirations, largely stemming from the imaginative minds of the staff who are based within the country.
At first glance, from screenshots alone, I was given Ori and the Blind Forst and Little Nightmares vibes, two games that are 2D platformers with largely artistic styles over the reliance of 3D models. The game advertises itself as using puzzles to overcome obstacles and befriending the various wildlife the player may come across, without the usage of violence. Can this 2D platformer join the likes of Ori and the others as a modern indie classic? Or is this just an interactive art exhibit with nothing else to show for it?
Hoa Is All About Protecting The Environment
Upon entering the game, players immediately control Hoa, the titular character, as she returns home with the intent to save her home from a disturbing force that seeks to off the balance of nature. Nature is a major theme not just with the game, but with the developers themselves as they’ve stressed the intentions of creating a benevolent title. Rather than having enemies, Hoa features wildlife as allies, helping Hoa travel across various environments including a forest, mines, treetops, and the mysteries hidden behind the nighttime.
One of the early examples of animals helping Hoa is these blue stag beetles, which will follow Hoa and use themselves as a stepping stone to reach platforms just out of her reach. There are caterpillars with bouncy skin that will propel Hoa towards great distances, sentient rocks that will float with the aid of fireflies, and ladybugs that will become startled by Hoa after a set period of time.
All Wildlife Is Friendly And Some Go About Their Day
Very few obstacles are antagonistic to Hoa, with the exception of an angry red stag beetle that will indirectly make a path for Hoa by knocking a tree branch, then proceed to fling her if she interacts with it. The one type of “enemy” in this game is a robot that will kick Hoa the moment she comes in contact with it, however, eventually, she will learn the ability to smash, colliding her frame with force from above and leap from the robot’s head to reach distant platforms.
The gameplay is simplistic enough, with the goal of Hoa to attain butterflies that are hidden across each map following the end of a puzzle sequence. Upon earning the allotted number of butterflies, the guardian of the map will speak to Hoa, giving some information about her past and the story. They will then teach Hoa a new ability and encourage her to go to another location to learn more lore things.
Robots And Industrialization Is The Main Enemy In Hoa
As Hoa explores more maps, the player will be expected to use what they learned to traverse through increasingly complex puzzles. The gaps would get wider, encouraging Hoa to use her double jump ability, while using her newfound strength will be required to push rocks out of the way. While this takes place, calming and atmospheric music plays in the background, setting the tone and scene like something out of a “Studio Ghibli” movie.
The comparison isn’t too far off as it does have a Ni no Kuni vibe with its presentation and aesthetic, but ultimately Hoa feels like an interactive children’s book that those of all ages can enjoy. While games like Kaze and The Wild Masks prides themselves on colorful nostalgic gameplay, kids can enjoy it for its simplicity and art. Adults, on the other hand, can appreciate its calming nature. Hoa is a relaxing experience that feels unique in a way that video games are prone to feeling, having the player whisk themselves into another world full of fantasy and life.
Hoa is available on the PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and Switch.