What does Hoa have in common with the classic mobile game Flappy Bird? In both, you accompany a peaceful being through challenging environments and, this is the crucial point here; both games come from Vietnam. Since the release of Flappy Bird, it took a long time for a game from the Southeast Asian country to get so much international attention again. Our review now wants to check whether the advance praise for the platformer Hoa, often framed as Ghibli-Esque, is justified.
We play the eponymous Hoa, the Vietnamese word for flower, a small dwarf-like creature that washes up on a leaf on the coast and goes in search of its friends, the giant animal gods. While we are crossing the first level, a wonderfully dreamy forest, we soon notice that something is wrong because the gods of the forest have sunk into a deep sleep. It is now up to little Hoa to reveal the secret of their hibernation and at the same time find out something about her mysterious origin.
At its core, Hoa is a typical 2D platformer in which we jump through the levels, always looking for a way to progress to the next stage. Little by little, we also unlock other skills, such as the mandatory double jump or the ability to hover over short distances. To achieve our goal, we make clever use of the environment, climb over huge ivy leaves or use beetles as a trampoline. Hoa is a consistently non-violent game, and thus it fits that the protagonist cannot fight. Although there are also enemies, steam-powered spider-like robots, they are relatively harmless and only throw the little Hoa back a few meters; Hoa cannot die. It is, therefore, more essential to avoid the conflict than to seek it.
Also, in terms of puzzles, Hoa is relatively relaxed and never overwhelms us. Usually, we are looking for little fairies hidden in the level, with whom we can open new sections or unlock new skills. You will also find smaller logic puzzles or labyrinths here and there, but none of them is too challenging or utterly breaking the pace. Only a few passages where we had to swing from flower to flower made us a bit desperate, mainly because of the highly imprecise control of this game mechanic. It’s a shame because younger players, for whom the game is also tailored, could quickly lose motivation at these points.
Overall, however, we had a lot of fun with little Hoa. The game is a relaxed excursion into a miniature world interwoven with mythological and animistic legends. The story, as trite as the principle of nature vs technology may be, is nicely told in cutscenes and dialogues, and we even ended up being a bit emotional when we had to leave this world.
The graphics of the game are definitely beyond all doubt. Rarely have we seen such beautifully drawn environments with attention to detail that reminded us a little of the style of the Japanese Studio Ghibli, but without altogether reaching its quality. The whole game feels like a trip to a dream world, and the soft filter that wraps everything adds to that impression. The graphic artists from Skrollcat Studio sure went very creative in the design of the living beings, which are consistently well done. We weren’t quite as impressed by the game’s soundtrack, whose piano variations match the dream atmosphere but offer too little variety and often don’t follow changes in the gameplay.
Depending on your experience, you can finish Hoa in two to five hours. That is enough to experience the in its entirety and have a wonderful evening or two. Perhaps due to a few minor weaknesses, Hoa did not quite become the iconic game many were hoping for. As a game, however, it knows how to convince with its beautiful graphics, relaxed gameplay and lovely story about the power of nature. Skrollcat Studio has succeeded in bringing Vietnam back into the spotlight for high-quality indie games beyond the sphere of mobile gaming, and that’s a massive achievement by itself!