Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
August 24, 2021
Let’s be honest – the world is a bit of a mess at the moment. Gaming for a lot of us is our refuge, our safe place, our haven away from the realness of this world that feels like we’ve woken up in a parallel universe ala’ Marty McFly in Back To The Future Part II. Playing Hoa, the new action-adventure puzzle platformer from Vietnamese devs Skrollcat Studios, filled me with the right kind of calmness I needed during lockdown. Its simplistic beauty made me remember how small things, like finally washing your hair after a week, feels so damn good.
Hoa is a small game, but I’m not referring to its personality. It’s miniature in a number of other ways including its endearing art style. You play as a tiny fairy named Hoa who looks like an elongated beanie with a face and teeny-tiny legs. Hoa isn’t like other fairies – they’re a cool, cute, non-sparkling fairy who I promise you will fall in love with. The world around them is scaled so that you are always reminded about how tiny Hoa is, but it isn’t an overwhelming feeling. It’s a feeling of exploration and wonder.
It’s not surprising that Hoa is a calming game due to the developers wanting their game to “channel… the inner child in you. It’s about being curious and observant and falling in love with the small things.” Skrollcat Studio’s vision was to combine a narrative that was influenced by Vietnamese mythology with uncomplicated gameplay and a Studio Ghibli inspired art style. Though I know nothing about Vietnamese myths, I can say that Skrollcat has hit the nail on the head with their other goals.
“Skrollcat Studio’s vision was to combine a narrative that was influenced by Vietnamese mythology with uncomplicated gameplay and a Studio Ghibli inspired art style.”
In relation to Vietnamese myth, Skrollcat found inspiration in the 1940 children’s book, Diary of a Cricket. In the tale, even though the cricket is such a tiny creature, it travels all over the world, making friends and bringing peace everywhere he visits.
Not only does the game use Diary of a Cricket as a narrative influence, but it also channels the vibes of the cricket in Hoa. The children’s story was a fable about loving nature, and Hoa herself treats the environment around her with respect. Even though she uses elements of the world around her, such as the leaves and bugs, there is no violence whatsoever in her actions.
This again was the vision for the game – that Hoa would be a pacifist who would only bring light and peace to the worlds she traversed. It makes sense then that the only aspect of the game that borderlines on being violent has Hoa running as fast as she can from the scene. This is done via a cutscene so that players have no control over her actions in that moment. The way that the player doesn’t have to interact with the most intense scene in the game reinforces the emphasis on gameplay being as calm as possible.
The beginning of the game sets up these vibes, with Hoa traversing onto land in a leaf boat. It takes a few seconds to be able to take control of her, symbolising the pace of the game. Once you get started, Hoa’s aim is to go deeper and deeper into this land that she has found herself washed up on. She, like the player, has no idea who she is or the story of this land, only that the further she travels, the more her story will be revealed.
Your aim is to find five butterflies for each of the mythical creatures, who seem to be the custodians of each of the world maps. Once these butterflies are delivered, each will give you two things. Firstly, they will discuss their relationship with you, adding another piece to the narrative puzzle. Secondly, they will “teach” you a new power.
To be able to interact with these creatures you will have to light totems that you make your way to throughout the level. The world map shows you the location of each of these, along with where each of the five butterflies are located.
Along the way there are elements within the worlds that help you, such as rhino bugs that you can stand on and reach high platforms, leaves that secure safe passage to higher places, and also beetles that fly away at intervals but also provide a way for Hoa to reach greater heights.
Even though Hoa has a lot going for it, there were a few things that stopped it from being a contender for my GOTY 2021 list. For one, the jumping mechanics can be very frustrating at times, which led me to be stuck in certain areas of the game for much longer than I should have been. This obviously broke the calm vibes Hoa generally gives off.
Due to Hoa’s gameplay being so simple, it can also get a tad boring at times. This is great for families, kids, casual gamers, and others that get to enjoy Hoa in all its glory. Although for a seasoned gamer who is used to games testing their brainpower, Hoa may fall short of excitement. Also, the game is super short. Even if you take your time, you’ll be finished with Hoa in a day max. Not that short games are necessarily a bad thing, but I feel like the devs could have extended Hoa’s story a tad and even introduced an additional world map. All up, however, I really did enjoy my time with Hoa due to its stunning art style, super cute narrative and calm vibes.
- Hand-drawn art style is beautiful
- Narrative is gorgeously wholesome
- Gameplay is simple and therefore approachable for all types of players
- Calming vibes really does make it a great, chilled escape
- Sometimes the simplicity of the gameplay isn't challenging enough
- Some of the jump mechanics can be a bit clunky
- Game itself is quite short, could have extended the narrative a bit further
Hoa is one of the only games I’ve recently played where my 70-year-old, non-gamer dad felt comfortable enough to play. It’s because of its simplicity and how approachable it is that makes Hoa the kind of game that anyone can enjoy and feel the calmness wash over them. The platforming can be a little clunky and the game may not challenge seasoned gamers. Although Hoa definitely brings the wholesome content we need right now – a simple story about a little fairy that just wants peace in this crazy world we live in.