Can you Be-Leaf It?
Hoa is the game equivalent of a children’s bedtime story: a light narrative that serves as a vehicle for a comfortable atmosphere, memorable magical episodes, and an easy moral message that wraps up right as a youngster is off to dreamland. While these elements make it a pleasant, cozy affair, they don’t exactly make it a must-play experience.
A Quick Journey
Hoa calls itself a ‘puzzle-platformer.’ Players control a small fairy that has to navigate various environments, from dazzling giant tree branches to the bottom of the ocean, on a quest to return home and find someone who holds great importance in their past. This manifests in a handful of small levels, each dedicated to one specific biome, and each revolving around finding five butterflies that you’ll use to awaken a larger central creature who’ll give you a new ability and send you to the next area. The abilities are standard platforming fare, including a double-jump and a hover ability, and each new area is full of distinct platforming gimmicks that you’ll have to quickly master. I say quickly not because Hoa is punishing in its difficulty, but because each level ends so quickly that you’ll have to start learning new mechanics right as the old ones feel familiar.
Your character is a tiny little creature, and their top speed is low enough to ensure there probably won’t be many Hoa speedrunners. As walking and jumping are your main tools of getting around, it’s a good thing that jumping moves you more quickly. Some areas involve jumping onto swinging flowers or ladybugs that can carry you, and the hit detection on these isn’t the best, leading to some brief frustrating sequences. Thankfully, there’s no way to ‘die’ in Hoa, as missing a jump just lands you safely where you didn’t mean to go, and the level layouts are designed so you never fall too far from where you might miss a jump.
Most of these environments are easy to wrap your head around, such as ladybugs that act as platforms, so long as you jump off them before they fly away, or fish that swim back and forth and will drop you if you’re on their back when they turn around. There are some rudimentary puzzle elements to how you navigate the levels in Hoa, but nothing that should leave you stumped for very long at all. The puzzles are really a breeze to get through once you understand how each new environment behaves, though there is something of a doozy in the final level’s steep escalation.
Blink And You’ll Miss It
One problem with Hoa’s tightly-confined levels is that there aren’t any optional areas to explore, and as lovely as the environments are, they feel somewhat perfunctory, easy to see for what they are: levels in a platforming game. These areas are easy to recognize as containers for objectives, and nothing more. Once you have all five butterflies, you’ve seen everything the area has to show you. The game’s formula becomes worryingly obvious after the second or third level.
The game seems designed not to overstay its welcome, however, as it ends extremely quickly. You can complete it in around 2 or 3 hours -- and while the overall experience’s brisk pace is nice for a gamer on the go, it does feel like it ends right as its world is getting interesting, and right as it starts subverting its own world design. It would have been nice to be able to stick around for another world or two and see what else the team could have come up with, freed from the burden of introducing basic mechanics.
Picture Book Platformer
Hoa is visually stunning, with lush colors and textures that give every area a real sense of tangibility and weight. The giant creatures you encounter all have a real sense of grandeur to them, and the bright colors throughout are used to powerful effect. Your protagonist’s stoic figure is a funny thing to watch as they bumble through botched jumps and missed platforms, an indomitable little sprout in a giant world. Character designs are the right kind of cute: endearing and joyful to look at, never cloying or overly saccharine like they’re chasing the Baby Yoda market.
While the lush, expressive art style is a standout, its soundtrack is more passable. Tinkling piano pieces let us know we’re on a classic grand adventure, but there’s a lack of specificity in most of the music that robs Hoa of a really valuable avenue for pathos. The sounds mostly just feel generic, something to ignore as you go about your game, which is a real missed opportunity.
HOA Final Thoughts
For younger gamers, Hoa would be a great way to spend an afternoon -- with one’s eyes glued to a playable watercolor painting that lasts a little longer than a feature film. There is undeniable charm and spirit within this game, but it’s over so quickly, and so mechanically sparse, that it feels difficult to recommend it. Still, if the art style grabs your attention and you’re interested in an easy, low-stress platformer, it has its charms.
TechRaptor reviewed Hoa on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Steam, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.
- Beautiful Visuals
- New Mechanics Come Quickly
- Extremely Short
- Lack of Exploration