#REVIEW: Hoa (PS5)

I haven’t written a game review on here in a while, mostly because I’ve been confining most of my gaming to my YouTube channel, but I just finished Hoa last night and I feel like this one deserves a little bit more of a push. The Let’s Play isn’t going to run for a few weeks– the current game I’m playing is going to wrap up on the 30th and there’s a whole other game I want to play before Hoa runs, but I picked it up on sale and more or less on a whim– at $4.95, I’m willing to play ten minutes and decide I made a mistake– and it’s absolutely fucking delightful, and if you’re any kind of gamer at all you owe it to yourself to check this one out. It seems to have launched on basically every available system, so you don’t even have to have any particular device to play it.

Hoa is a platformer/puzzle game, only about two and a half hours in length– it will run five episodes when I stream it– and all of the art assets are entirely hand-drawn. It is absolutely gorgeous from start to finish, as you move through (mostly) naturalistic, wooded settings, interacting with fish and insects and other forms of wildlife along with the occasional robotic enemy. The game is divided into five or six zones, and the progression is pretty linear– you collect five butterflies in each level and then turn them in to … well, not a “boss,” because the game doesn’t have any combat at all, but a large denizen of the level, who gives you a new movement ability and sends you on to the next area. There is a story, but it’s kind of bare-bones until all the reveals come at the end, so I’m not going to spoil anything.

This is not a challenging game, and I don’t think it’s meant to be; it’s one of the few games I’ve played where I really feel like relaxation was one of the goals of the game designers, and the piano soundtrack (while occasionally a bit too loud) is just amazing. This is a great game to just play through and chill to, and it’s one of the very rare games where I feel like trying to speed-run it might be fun.

What pushes this game into territory where I’m raving about it is how it handles the ending. There is a big chase scene that is actually handled as a cutscene, which took me by surprise, but then the game does something completely unexpected once the game ends, and the way it handles revealing the parts of the story that had been opaque through endgame cutscenes is really impressive. This was a good game until the last half-hour or so and then shifted into something entirely more notable at that point, and I strongly suggest you play it yourself before watching me do it. It’s a steal at $4.95, and I wouldn’t have felt bad at all if I’d paid the full price. Definitely check it out.

ELDEN RING post-Network Test impressions

One thing is absolutely clear: I need to clear my calendar for late February and probably all of March, and I am going to take a personal day the day this game comes out and I’m not going to feel even the tiniest bit bad about it. I will flat-out tell people that I am staying home to play video games. Deal with it.

I recorded five hours of footage from the network beta test of this game– three hours on Friday night and two more on Sunday night, before hitting a situation that ended the stream so perfectly that continuing to play (and cost myself sleep the night before work) seemed wholly unnecessary. During that time I explored a pretty good chunk of the map we had available to us, defeated several bosses including Margit the Fell up there, who appears to be the first major storyline boss in the game, found but did not seriously attempt to kill the dragon, and cleared out three caves. I dipped my toe in multiplayer a bit, letting myself be summoned to help one player (unsuccessfully, unfortunately) defeat a boss, and summoning people myself to take out Margit and one other boss. I also got invaded once and killed the invader. I only really tried out the one class, deciding to get deeper into progression with a single character rather than repeat the same content with a bunch of them, but I chose the Enchanted Knight class, meaning that I had access to melee and magic abilities.

This game is a fucking blast, y’all, and while I have some scattered concerns here and there I think they mostly fall into either “this was the beta test” or “you will get used to it” categories. I’m going to switch to bullet points now; note that any references I should happen to make to the development of the game come from a position of nearly total ignorance, so I may have the idea that very complicated things are easy or that easy things are very complicated. Take everything with as much salt as you’d like.

  • The combat and basic game itself is pure Dark Souls, which is a good thing (because that’s my favorite game series) and a bad thing (because they are literally reusing tons of animations from Dark Souls 3.) This is one of those places where I’m wondering if a lot of the animations are placeholders that are going to get swapped out later. Other things, like fonts and such, are also pretty similar and I suspect might see some polishing in the next several months. It’s important to remember that this isn’t a Dark Souls game; it’s a whole new IP and while nobody’s complaining about the obvious shared DNA it does need to have more of its own identity.
  • The look of the game is fantastic, and the network test covered a diverse enough swath of environments (and weather conditions!) to give you a good idea of how all sorts of things are going to look. Graphical fidelity is not going to be a problem here.
  • The game was very, very clean. The only bugs I noticed (and didn’t bother reporting) was that sometimes player messages were floating off the ground rather than being where they were supposed to be. I had no crashes at all, no glitching, nothing like that, and I haven’t really seen any reports of major bugs either. AI seemed on point across the board, although sneaking up and backstabbing enemies is maybe a little easier than it ought to be.
  • That might not be true. There were a couple places during the Friday session where I was trying to summon people and having no luck at all. That could be a bug issue or could be a result of summons getting snatched up the second they got placed; it’s hard to say from this end. But if it was a bug, it was the only one, and I wasn’t having those issues nearly as much Sunday night.
  • I didn’t feel like there was enough variation in weapons and armor available. There were next to no drops from humanoid enemies, and nonhuman enemies mostly dropped crafting materials. Five hours into any other Fromsoft game other than Sekiro would have given you tons of different weapons and armor. I found a twinblade really quickly that I used for most of my run, but by the end of the five hours I only had maybe four or five weapons, which is ludicrously low. This is something else that I assume they’ll correct by the time of the game’s full release. No reason to give everybody full customizability right off the bat.
  • Similarly, the demo had no initial character customization at all, and made sure to put most characters’ faces behind helmets. I figure they left it out on purpose.
  • Other than the fact that there is an Elden Ring out there and it is destroyed and you’re looking for it, there were no real hints at the story at all. Which is, to be clear, absolutely fine.
  • Changes from the Dark Souls model: the ability to charge spells is awesome. I also really like being able to replace special abilities on weapons with others that you’ve picked up, and turning enemy summons into an item is a fantastic move even if I thought the three wolves summon was flat-out unfair by the end of the second stream. There will be rebalancing; there’s no doubt about that. It’s inevitable. I also really like the mechanic where wiping out entire groups of enemies can result in recharging your heals. This does two things: one, it encourages more aggressive gameplay, and two, it adds another element of risk/reward to the game, which is something Fromsoft games have always excelled at. If I only have half a health bar and no heals left, do I attack that last enemy or two knowing that if they hit me, I’m dead, but if I beat them without any mistakes I get all my heals back?
  • Boss difficulty and design is pretty solid, and Margit the Fell is one of the most complex early bosses I’ve ever encountered in one of these games. I was pretty sure I could take him sooner or later by myself, but went with summons to help out because with a clock ticking I felt like I didn’t have time to fuck around learning attack patterns that could change by the time the game comes out. Better to steamroll the bastard so I can see what’s after him. 🙂
  • Recording this game is going to be tricky. Open-world games lend themselves better to streaming, but I don’t have a lot of time to stream, and half-hour episodes are going to feel really inadequate, especially considering how frequently I was getting distracted. Assuming I’m still running the YouTube channel by then, I may have to reconsider how I present the episodes. Luckily I’ve got plenty of time to figure that out.
  • EDIT: Just discovered there was an whole entire-ass tutorial area that I completely missed. Oops?

I may add some details here and there as I continue to think about this, but I figure this is enough to get started with. Damn, I need more friends who play video games.


Am I excited about this? HELL YES I am excited about this.

I got into the Elden Ring network test beta, naturally on a weekend where I’m going to be out of town Saturday to Sunday, but I’m going to be live-streaming all three hours tomorrow night (10:00 pm – 1:00 am EST) and there’s a slight (read: nonexistent) chance that I’ll even be up hella early in the morning streaming as well. The test has five three-hour chunks over the weekend and I plan to stream for two of them even without the crack of dawn thing, so I’ll get at least six hours in of checking the game out and every last second of it will be online for the Internet’s perusal.

Unfortunately, I got home from work tonight and went straight to parent/teacher conferences for my son and then came home and had to grade, so this is the limit of my energy for the day. But best believe I’m going to spend all day waiting for 10:00 to roll around tomorrow. I’ll take a nap when I get home if I have to.

On dopamine

I wrapped up my Let’s Play of Blasphemous today, which is going to run 30 episodes, and since Episodes 10 and 11 just dropped today I’ve got a minute before I have to start the next thing. If you haven’t paid any attention to my videos, the thing you need to know about the game for the purpose of understanding this post is that it’s loaded with collectibles and secret rooms and all sorts of things that my lizard brain covets because I am that type of player. When I beat the game I had a completion percentage in the high nineties but was still missing several clearly unimportant but still not in my damn inventory items, and I spent a good chunk of this afternoon finishing off finding the last handful of things and finding every single spot on the map.

This was, mind you, a lot of stuff, and required not one, not two, but four different “here is where all this stuff is” websites and/or YouTube tutorials to find everything. Most of this, for the record, was not filmed, but was done for my own edification and because I am insane. After all of it my completion percentage was an agonizing 99.81%. Not acceptable! I must have 100%.

So I found another video that purported to show the hardest-to-find spots on the map; mostly out-of-the-way places that don’t scan “HEY LOOK HERE FOR A SECRET” on the map or on the screen and require you to whack a wall or a corner of a wall that you might not have any good reason to go near so that you can open up a single, small room.

After finding two new rooms, the 100% achievement popped for me. Thank God, I thought, thoroughly tired of this by now. I can stop playing and move on to something else for a while.

And then I quit out of the game, then went back to reload my save, because that’s where the most detailed completion percentage is shown for you.

And it was 99.95%. Despite me having gotten the trophy for 100%ing the game.

I have no idea why this might have happened.

And now– only now, after all that– do I feel like perhaps I might have wasted some of my time today.

Two unrelated things

I’ve been thinking about an Iron Man video game lately. Now, to my knowledge, there’s not one currently in development; my point is there should be, and after the huge success of the Spider-Man and Miles Morales games, I would love to see Insomniac take a whack at it. I’m watching a playthrough of the new Guardians of the Galaxy game (which I don’t currently intend to play) as well and that seems to have captured pretty well what a team-based video game ought to be.

What’s got me excited is the prospect of customizability. Imagine a game where you’re constantly unlocking or finding or inventing (call it what you want) new modes and upgrades and powers for your armor, and then give you the ability to swap those pieces out at will, then skin everything however you like so that you can use whatever classic Iron Man colors you want, from the classic red and gold to the Silver Centurion to the short-lived-but-gorgeous black and gold suit to the Superior Iron Man white suit. Ideally you’d end up with something similar to Ghost of Tsushima where there are tons of reason why you might swap out a suit or a few pieces for a specific purpose. I loved how that game never let you get comfortable with a suit of armor; some would be better for stealth, some were straight-up dueling armors, some were more suited for archery and so on. And if the character is Iron Man, someone who could literally be fighting in dozens of different environments? C’mon.

There has not, to my knowledge, been a really good game yet featuring a character who can fly. The Spider-Man games have come the closest (and yes, I have played the Xbox 360 Iron Man game from 2008) and obviously Spider-Man doesn’t actually fly but they nailed the way he moves. C’mon, y’all, make this game happen so I can play it for a thousand years.

On the way home from my dad’s house this evening it crossed my mind that I’ve been stuck at 42 followers for my YouTube channel for a minute now. I am putting a lot of work into this channel, and (and this is not just me, for the record) it is significantly more difficult to pick up followers on YouTube than any other form of social media I’m aware of, and frankly right now the only strategy I have is “make good content and wait for people to find it,” which … well, that’s certainly not a bad strategy, but what it also isn’t is fast. Ironically, I realized just after getting home that that elusive 43rd follower had found me– and, as it happens, he’d left his followers open, so I could see who he was. Typically YouTubers keep their follow lists private, so most of the time when someone follows you only know because the little number ticks up by one and you don’t get any information about who’s followed you.

And he appears to be a middle-school-aged black kid, which immediately brought up the obvious question of whether he was one of my students. And here’s the fascinating bit– I don’t think he is, but I’m not 100% sure despite the fact that he’s posted a couple of videos where his face is visible. Why am I not sure? Because I don’t really know what most of my current students look like, since they wear masks all the fucking time. Especially given how fast these kids’ faces change at this age, if the video I’m looking at is more than six months or so old it’s entirely possible that he’s one of mine and I just don’t recognize him.

Fucked-up, that.