All Chill, No Thrill

HIGH Beautiful hand painted graphics.

LOW Relaxing gameplay… perhaps too relaxing.

WTF Not recommended for those with Entomophobia 

With its calming, naturalistic, and beautifully hand-painted graphics, Hoa evokes an aura and aesthetic similar to the output from the legendary Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli.

Opening with a haunting piano melody and a gentle atmosphere, the player assumes control of a red-cloaked spirit named Hoa who has just returned to her place of birth. This serene ambiance is promptly broken as Hoa finds her homeland in ruins, and must use the powers at her disposal to revitalize the land. 

Hoa is a 2D light puzzle platformer, filled with puzzles such as moving rocks to reach higher places, and jumping to find seals to activate that are needed to wake up the “guardian” of the area so that they can give Hoa new abilities which allow them to pass through the next area, which is the general objective. There are some enemies about, but they’re mostly harmless, as they will do little to Hoa other than kick them back a few paces. 

Unfortunately, the action is uninspired for the most part, as the puzzles lack anything distinct to separate them from other titles in the genre. Challenges usually entail moving a rock so that Hoa can climb hard to reach places or can successfully execute a double jump — it’s definitely a design we’ve seen used in countless titles before. Such beautiful graphics definitely warranted slightly more elaborate mechanics.

While Hoa can obtain movement upgrades along the way, such as a genre-standard double jump or the ability to push heavier rocks, that’s as far as the gameplay evolves. Additionally, there are no collectibles to gather or secrets to uncover, making replay value low.

If Skrollcat Studio’s goal was to create a low-stakes stroll through a chill world with lush graphics that are accompanied by a relaxing soundtrack, they’ve succeeded. However, those looking for a challenge or anything resembling the kind of action found in an ordinary platformer should look elsewhere. I did enjoy the final gameplay sequence which is a tad more challenging (despite being mostly automated) and its tonal shift is different than the rest, but it’s over far too quickly.

It’s a shame Hoa doesn’t try to do more with its fantastic art design, as its non-challenging puzzle/platforming mechanics have already been employed more successfully by contemporaries. It might be beautiful, but Skrollcat Studio’s title offers a quietly milquetoast experience that reaches its anticlimactic conclusion before it has time to blossom.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Skrollcat Studio and published by PM Studios. It is currently available on PC, Switch, PS and XB. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The game is rated E by the ESRB and contains Mild Fantasy Violence. As long as one’s kid is not scared of insects, Hoa would be a perfect title to play with a young child as well.

Colorblind Modes: there are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: there is no voice acting in the game, everything is subtitled, while text cannot be altered or resized. In my view, the game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: There is no control diagram. The game uses the analog stick or d-pad to move Hoa around. The A button is for jumping and X is to interact with things in the environment. Controls are not remappable.

Damiano Gerli
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