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Hoa Review: Secrets of the Natural World (Switch)

Face it, we all think that shrinking down and living amongst towering blades of grass and huge daisies is the best way to live. But what would being this size and living with the world actually entail? Who would we meet? What would we find? Luckily for us, Skrollcat Studios have brought this dream to life.

Hoa Review: Secrets of the Natural World (Switch)

There’s a time in everyone’s childhood where we question what life would be like if we were miniscule and lived amongst the earth. What it would be like to befriend the bugs and jump across petals. A simpler time, where everything just seems at peace. I am definitely guilty of finding solace in imagining what life would be like if I was a fairy. I always grew up with the belief that there was a world beyond the naked eye. Luckily, Skrollcat Studios have developed Hoa, a game which allows players to experience that world firsthand. As you can imagine I cannot contain my excitement and sheer adoration of this game for much longer. 

Hoa is an absolutely breathtaking puzzle-platforming game. Every single element to it, from an incredibly peaceful soundtrack to a whole cast of friends to meet, is simply perfect. If you’re searching for a world to immerse yourself into where nothing feels concerning, the gorgeous world of Hoa might just be for you. 

Take a look for yourself, and understand what I mean when I say that this game is absolutely ethereal. 

Hoa - Announcement Trailer

Hoa is available for purchase on the Nintendo eShop, Steam and PS4 for your regional pricing. A physical copy is also available for pre-order, but there are no current plans for an EU physical release.

Story: There’s Magic beyond the naked eye

You awaken as Hoa, a tiny fairy who has arrived to land on a small leaf boat. There is no description as to where you came from or why you are here, but you quickly dust off and begin your adventure. During this period of exploration, you meet an entire cast of fellow forest dwellers who spill their insight to the situation and their own experience with you prior to where the game begins. Even though you will be waking for the first time and hearing these tales of the past, I personally couldn’t help but feel connected to the characters claiming to have protected me. 

I will not mention any key elements to the storyline since I beg you to experience it all first hand without any spoilers, but there is extreme depth to the story. Each character helping you on your journey recalls you being even smaller than you are, introducing a childlike innocence to the game. It’s well matched with the comforting soft pastel colours of your surroundings and appearance. I’d probably suggest that innocence is the best way to describe the character here. There just aren’t any negative intentions or connotations. You are pure of heart, and even the elders of the forest suggest this. 

One of the many adorable friends you shall meet on your way.

One of the many adorable friends you shall meet on your way.

A gentle sort of encouragement

For a short game, Hoa packs a lot in. It’s not in your face though, it just gently encourages you to learn the story of your past in a way which keeps you completely engaged. Eventually your questions will be answered. Who are you? And are there any others? Your tiny character seems to be one of a kind, since you don’t ever meet a fellow fairy. So it’s all eyes on you basically. The innocence, and the aid of those around you and their general willingness to help has made this game a completely unforgettable experience to me.

Gameplay: Let the butterflies lead the way

Hoa begins with little to no controls. You can walk and jump, but that’s about it. Which in a way is all you need for a puzzle platformer. The game walks you through a small tutorial to teach you the ways you can explore. You also quickly learn that the insects and creatures around will be a very good help on your journey. It certainly helps that everything and everyone is absolutely adorable. The bug-eyed friends you meet will share lore as you work your way through the map, giving hints and tips as to where to go. This is a very simple game to play through at first, but that doesn’t affect how amazing it is as a whole. 

A friend to assist arachnophobia

A friend to assist arachnophobia.

Every single element has been filled with love and character. It’s clear from the moment you pick this game up that every single leaf or tree or bright eyed encounter has been carefully designed and picked out. To the point where I occasionally forgot I was playing a game and honestly thought I was sitting watching the latest Ghibli title. Hoa is honestly so sweet I feel like I could eat it. Which may sound like a ridiculous statement, but if you play it you’ll know what I mean. 

All game mechanics run incredibly smoothly as well. From pushing blocks to double jumping on ivy leaves there are few frame drops and lag. I only experienced a little bit of buffering when my screen was absolutely dominated with movement and fluttering critters. But even that couldn’t dampen my experience with it. The soft pastel colours and gentle nudges to the tasks at hand present this peaceful, stress free experience. After spending the last few months with action packed, enemy filled games, this definitely came as a well deserved rest. I found it to be a completely stress-free experience, even though the story behind it seems fairly intense on paper. 

Even the rocks are adorable and filled with personality.

Even the rocks are adorable and filled with personality.

A whole cast of wholesomeness

As you progress through the storyline, each friend grants you new abilities. It’s a gentle approach to introducing new mechanics since you won’t use them all right away. To be honest, you’re pretty set with movement and jumping until the final few parts of Hoa. There’s a lot of fun in learning these new skills though – and each one comes with a story. Not only that, but each critter who grants you these powers is somehow linked to the skill they bestow. These are all explained in a recap of past events and what led you to where you are, eventually forging the story of your character and why the sleepy world around you is slowly waking up. 

I thoroughly love learning new skills like air dash and double jump in other similar puzzle platformers. It just adds more to a game and the story. It’s also a far more steady way to get you used to controls and patterns. Which, for a game like this, is completely necessary. If all abilities were granted at the beginning of the game I think it would take the excitement and drive out of completing the story. 

Skrollcat Studios developed this game so players could experience the magic of nature, and I would definitely support that statement. This game fulfills all childhood wonder and imagination regarding the natural world and what goes on beyond our own sight. There is a wonderful, almost euphoric feeling behind playing this game, and I think that deserves such high praise. I am definitely a sucker for anything woodland and magic related, so maybe there’s a touch of bias behind this. I genuinely believe that there is not a single person who could pick this game up and not fall in love. 

Use the world around you to your own advantage.

Use the world around you to your own advantage.

Audio and graphics: Enough to bring tears to your eyes

As I cannot seem to stop mentioning, Hoa is such an incredibly beautiful game. With a completely hand painted art style, everything is as soft and perfect as you could imagine. It also gives off some very strong Studio Ghibli energy, with the massive supply of loveable creatures and stunning fluffy landscapes. Even the soundtrack is like something created by Hayao Misaki. For a game so heavily dependent on creating a peaceful experience of the players surroundings, the game absolutely hits the nail on the head. 

It feels comfortable on Nintendo Switch as well, like your own pocket sized paradise. I played Hoa whilst my console was docked, but taking this out and about in handheld is a completely different experience. I find it incredibly hard to settle down and relax with a game, since anything even slightly competitive gets my heart pounding and palms sweating. But I could spend hours going over the title and still not feel stressed or tense. 

There is light in all darkness. You just need to give it a little nudge.

There is light in all darkness. You just need to give it a little nudge.

Short but sweet

Despite Hoa being fairly short, there is something so utterly compelling about the whole experience. Whilst playing through this for the first time I had no concept of time whatsoever. I was too busy flying around mushrooms and jumping on the tops of ivy leaves to really care. When I say this game is captivating, I really mean it. You could genuinely just sit for hours admiring the amount of work that has gone into some of the scenes within. To aid this complete immersion there are no long loading screens or wait times between levels either. Everything runs as good as it looks. Which is definitely what you need with a game like this. Although it took a lot to pull me away, this game really deserves your full attention at all times. 

The soundtrack definitely deserves a special mention as well. To anyone familiar with the soundtracks of games like Journey or Breath of the Wild, you’ll know what I mean when I just say wow. Honestly, I don’t even think I have the words to express how incredible the soundtrack is. From the second you begin to the very last minute. There is something I find rather comforting about soundtracks supported mostly by piano. I don’t know if that’s because they take me back to rainy Sundays and a Studio Ghibli marathon. Or if it’s just down to how gentle the piano can sound as a whole. I have no shame in admitting within the first half hour of playing Hoa, I had the soundtrack swiftly downloaded and on repeat. 

Hoa was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a key provided by PM Studios

It's safe to say that I think Hoa is an absolutely outstanding game. My childhood self would be shrieking with glee at this game as it is everything you could possibly wish for out of a nature based puzzle platformer. With adorable creatures to befriend and a story to learn, Hoa definitely has it all. Therefore I cannot recommend this game enough.
  • Absolutely beautiful hand painted art
  • Adorable characters and guides
  • Breathtaking soundtrack
  • Solid storyline developed in game
  • Frame rate sometimes drops if there's a lot onscreen
  • A fair amount of back and forth until you learn the map

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