Not many have heard about this title, and I don’t really blame them. Released alongside some big-ticket titles in August like Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut, Psychonauts 2, and Hades, Hoa can be easily overlooked by virtue of name recall alone.
Hoa is one of the games we’ve been looking forward to since early this year simply because it looked like an actual controllable Studio Ghibli game. With its gorgeous hand-painted visuals, Hoa immediately charmed its way to our hearts and despite its almost too easy gameplay, provided a short but very sweet escape.
Back To Basics Platforming
The game tells the story of Hoa, a fairy on a journey back to her homeland after an unfortunate incident takes her away when she was young. While meeting friends and bringing life to her surroundings, Hoa finds out more about herself as she takes the trek back home.
Hoa is a 2D platformer that is… well, just a 2D platformer. There’s no “combat”, no traps, no enemies… there’s even no actual way to die in the game. Hoa is a straight-up platformer where the only real thing you do is jump in various directions.
If all of that sounds too basic for your taste, we won’t blame you, because the game is designed to be a simple and straightforward experience throughout its brief 3-ish hour campaign.
Hoa is not the type of game that feels satisfying because you solved a particularly hard puzzle or because you got past a tough obstacle that required insane dexterity. Simply playing through the levels, appreciating the view, and relaxing to the music is what the game brings to the table and does a very good job at it.
Younger gamers will surely appreciate its simple approach but older games such as myself can also appreciate the finer points of the game, namely the visuals and the music, because both work hand in hand to provide something special.
Sublime Art and Music
Without knowing anything about its gameplay, the one thing you notice about Hoa is its absurdly beautiful visuals, something you think would have been lifted from a Studio Ghibli movie.
The visuals are soft and colorful, with different shades of green, blue, and brown across a number of levels that will take you from treetops to a jellyfish-filled underwater maze. You’ll get to see various flora and fauna, all of which are wonderfully hand-painted to perfection.
There’s a lot to see and appreciate, so much so that every screencap you take could be something straight out of photo mode. Everything looks effortlessly pretty, and the denizens of the land are all rather charming.
To top it off, the music is such a relaxing treat. The mix of piano and strings reminded me of how some Final Fantasy games sounded back in the day, and I’ve counted more than a couple of times where I put my controller down just to listen to more of the soundtrack.
One thing of note is that the copy we tried was for the PS4 running backwards compatible on the PS5. We can only assume that the visuals would look sharper on the PS5 version (it wasn’t as sharp as I was hoping) along with some DualSense features, which we’ve yet to try.
What We Liked:
- Wonderful visuals.
- Sublime musical score.
- Perfect for a wide audience.
What We Didn’t Like:
- Area and scene transitions are jarring.
- No actual challenge to speak of.
- A bit too short with no replay value.
- Very basic plot.
Verdict: Buy It!
Overall, Hoa was quite the treat. The game could be finished in one sitting, which will understandably be too short for a lot of gamers, but the $14.99 price tag should be easy enough on the pocket to enjoy a relaxing campaign.
As mentioned, there is almost no challenge here save for some troublesome and finicky moments on some levels, but the journey through these beautiful backgrounds accompanied by a fantastic musical score is well worth the tradeoff.
*Hoa was reviewed on a PlayStation 5 from a review code provided by the publishers.