Hoa review: Spirited Away

Hoa is an enchanting puzzle-platforming journey with a gorgeous art style.

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With so many games looking to be the next big thing, the game you’ll sink hundreds of hours into, there’s something to be said about the shorter experiences that still leave a major impact. A title that perfectly encapsulates this is Skrollcat Studio’s Hoa, a game that follows a small character as they traverse unique locations and meet an array of different creatures on a journey of self-discovery.

An enchanting journey

Hoa begins with players washing upon a shore of a mysterious land. You then venture into a forest, on a journey to figure out what’s going on here as well as your role in all of it. There’s no spoken dialogue, as players are often given directions by environmental hints.

The majority of your time in Hoa is spent platforming and solving puzzles. The game does an excellent job at weaving the various locations into its core gameplay elements, such as having leaves appear and retract in the forest for players to use as platforms. Another example of this is the trees in the forest needing to be broken by bouncing off of bugs and hitting them with enough velocity. Another puzzle I really liked involved the ladybugs, which would disappear after a few seconds, requiring me to properly navigate without missing a platform.

There’s a lot of peculiar creatures that players meet throughout their journey in Hoa, from the bouncy caterpillar larvae that helps you reach higher places to the massive beetles that will follow the player around, creating obstructions as well as a way to reach platforms. I appreciated how the developers also used them as gameplay tools, in addition to fleshing out and diversifying the different locations.

Pure serenity

Hoa is easily one of the most tranquil games I’ve played in a long time. This is mainly thanks to all of the game’s artistic elements. Visually, it’s stunning. The hand-painted creatures and locations felt like something plucked from a 90s Studio Ghibli film. There’s a variety of different locations, from the lively forest to the cold factory and desolate cavern. Each location is rich with color, as well as dozens of little details like spider webs, fireflies, and moving pieces of nature that make them feel real and stand apart from one another.

The soundtrack to Hoa is captivating from the moment you take your first steps on the shore of this mysterious land. While the game is void of spoken dialogue, so much of the emotion and energy of any given scene is conveyed through music. The soundtrack was recorded live, which gave a feeling of authenticity to the music.

Short and sweet

Another element that contributes to the overall “chill” nature of Hoa is its length. The game is quite short, only taking roughly two hours to roll credits. Though a game like this can often leave players wanting more, I felt like the short running time fit perfectly for what Hoa is. It’s just enough time to find peace, enjoy some light puzzles, and appreciate some gorgeous visuals.

Anyone looking for something a bit more challenging may be disappointed, as Hoa is never looking to stump or frustrate you. The platforming segments are pretty forgiving, and the puzzles themselves are pretty elementary. Again, this is all by design. It’s fair to say that the game is lacking a sense of depth or intricacy, both in its gameplay and story, but that barely swayed me.

A breath of fresh air

Hoa is a peaceful experience that makes sure not to overstay its welcome. The environments are gorgeous, the gameplay is neat, and the soundtrack is captivating. More than anything, it makes me excited for what we’ll get from developer Skrollcat Studio down the road. It’s the perfect game to pick up and chill out with if you’re stressed, anxious, or just want a breath of fresh air.


This review is based on a digital Steam code provided by the publisher. Hoa launches on August 24, 2021 for PC and Switch for $14.99

Contributing Editor

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. After interning for Shacknews throughout college, Donovan graduated from Bowie State University in 2020 with a major in broadcast journalism and joined the team full-time. He is a huge Star Wars nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

Review for
Hoa
8
Pros
  • Hand-painted creatures and art are stunning
  • Beautiful soundtrack
  • Clever platforming and puzzles
  • An overall tranquil experience
Cons
  • Lacks a sense of depth
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