Perhaps no game better exemplifies Sony's current indie-friendly cross-platform approach than Hohokum. The upcoming PS3, PS4, and Vita game takes a decidedly different approach, with playful vector-like graphics, an indie-artist collaborative soundtrack, and non-penalizing gameplay--inviting you to relax and explore in a whimsical playground.
Opening in a peaceful world of blue skies and floating islands, you control a colorful, snake-like being with the left analog stick by moving or "wiggling" it, with the X and O buttons to speed up or slow down. A little blue penguin-like creature surfs on the creature's back. While passing curly trees, bouncy green flowers, and mole-hill like homes, I notice the light bar on the PS4 controller changes color with each directional change.
"The goal of the creators was to make a game that really didn't adhere to standards and gaming convention," senior producer Zach Wood said. "They wanted to make a game that didn't have a lot of pressure. So in [Hohokum], you don't die, you really can't fail, and the goals are not front and center."
So what can you do in Hohokum? "Every world does have... puzzle elements to it," but "it's really meant to be a non-linear experience that's a world that's just fun to explore and to be in," Wood explained. Hohokum encourages you to interact with things and let the world reveal itself to you. With your little surfing friend, you can pick up a pinecone-like seed and set them both on a hilltop, causing the seed to bloom into a kite and revealing the primary activity in this world. Bumping into a curly tree acts as a doorbell, inviting more little creatures out of their homes, and activating a series of circles reveals a hidden gateway to an area that acts as a corridor between the 12-15 worlds that will be available in Hohokum.
Using this corridor, "you can travel any place any time," says Wood. "You're not gated here--you don't have to complete the primary activities to just move on. You can go and explore other worlds and try different things and come back to them. It's really wide open in terms of what you can do."
Choosing a nearby gateway, I find myself in a world with large expanding and contracting aquamarine bubbles. Encased in these are aquatic worlds of colorful fish of all sizes, algae, sea rocks, and a shy, silk-like mermaid who fears a large anchor fish. A nearby lighthouse beams a mermaid-symbol beacon a la Batman, cluing you in to your activity in this area. It's not quite as straightforward as it suggests though--you have to get fish latch on to you, lead them to a rusted object, and attack the anchor fish to cause it to rust. Attempting to solve these "no-pressure puzzles," is what I imagine will ultimately encourage players to take their time and explore the game.
Lending to the relaxing quality of Hohokum is the soundtrack, which provides a soothing, non-obtrusive accompaniment to gameplay. As you play and interact with objects, the music gently crescendos, adding to the overall vibe of interactivity. Each world will have its own custom track, created specifically for the game by various artists under the Ghostly International label.
Hohokum will be simultaneously released for the PS4, PS3, and PS Vita in 2014. The game will allow you to save your game on one system, and continue your experience on another. Gameplay will remain the same cross-platform, with minor differences in controls. The Vita, for example, will use the touch surface to allow players to interact directly with characters and objects.
In choosing to abandon most gaming conventions, Hohokum presents an abstract and artistic world in which you can curiously explore without constraint. If the freedom of the worlds and puzzles of Hohokum can successfully hold players' attention throughout, it's a concept that could become an example of the kind of diversity the industry is capable of.