Review – Hob (Switch)
Action/adventure games and puzzle platformers are some of the most popular games in the market. They allow the player to lose themselves in another world for a while and work on solving problems other than how to please a customer or meet a deadline. It’s unfortunate however, that many of these games are so heavily compared to the most successful titles in the genre, like The Legend of Zelda or Mario Bros franchises. While a new game might be enjoyable in its own right, it will often get over shadowed by the larger and most recognizable titles. So in order to set itself apart from all of the others, there needs to be something done differently from the rest to make it stand out. Runic Studios, the team that brought us the popular Torchlight I and II, have managed to do just that with their refreshingly original action/adventure puzzle platformer, Hob.
The world of Hob is rich and vibrant, blending diverse environments with mechanical foundations. The game begins with our mute, red-cloaked protagonist exploring a small area of this world around him, only to find that it has been taken over by some sinister biological corruption. He ventures a little too close and one of his arms becomes infected by it. A hulking automaton saves him from the clutches of the dangerous stabbing spike and cleaves his own arm off before the corruption spreads further and takes over him completely. Our hero awakens to find his arm gone and in its stead, the mechanical savior has gifted him his own arm as a replacement.
This is about as much of a story line as you are given at the start of the game. All you know is something evil is threatening to take over your world completely and it’s up to you to investigate further to find out what’s going on. This is one of my favorite aspects about Hob: there is virtually no hand holding and you are left to figure out what’s happening with hardly any guidance. It creates a far more immersive feel than so many other games where you have to stop to read an instructional text box every few minutes. You are learning about what’s going on right alongside the protagonist. In a way, it reminds me of Limbo and Inside, where the story is conveyed wordlessly by witnessing the events taking place around you.
Hob is an open world game that only vaguely shows were you need to go. It is a game that focuses on exploration as the key to progressing further. The UI is very minimal which further enhances the experience. You also have the option to not display your health and stamina bar if you want a more fully immersive experience (I did). This is the key to what makes Hob so unique: the more you explore, the more you learn about the plight of the world you’re in and what your role is in its salvation.
The game consists mainly of well designed platforming sections in order to reach new areas or activate devices that will physically alter the world around you. While the world may look like it’s made of rocks and trees, there’s actually a core mechanical system within it. Every switch or lever you successfully hit will actually change the environment in a mechanical/geological sort of way. This will allow you to access areas that were previously blocked off, or reveal a new objective to seek out.
There’s also a fair amount of combat in Hob. You start off with a rudimentary sword that you can upgrade throughout the game by visiting a forge. This also serves as your safe haven of sorts, where you can also acquire new skills and moves. There aren’t a ton of crazy moves to learn, but the basics are all there. You can run, jump, dodge, swing your sword, use a shield, and use various strong punches and slam attacks with your robotic arm. The combat is pretty straightforward, but each of the creatures that inhabit Hob all have their different techniques for defeating them. It’s a lot of fun trying out new tactics, especially when you can successfully bait the enemies into damaging each other.
Hob isn’t without its flaws, however. At times the camera will pan out or zoom in at inopportune times, like when you’re fighting enemies or trying to navigate a tricky platforming section. Every now and then you’ll leap off a ledge in a completely different direction than what you were aiming for. Then there’s the sizeable frame rate drops when you’re battling a group of creatures at once or when the camera pulls back for a better view of the whole landscape. They’re not bad enough to warrant not playing the game, but they do interrupt the overall flow, especially during the fights.
There’s also an autosave feature in Hob that saves your game after any switch is activated or you find an item of importance, like a piece of heart. If you die, you’ll simply respawn at the closest hub you’ve discovered. While this is convenient most of the time, there are times when you’ll try to get to the next area, jump in a direction other than what you were trying for, and die as a result. You then respawn far away from where you just were, even if you could see the next hub in sight before you perished. This at times makes for a bit of tedious backtracking. Luckily, it doesn’t happen too often.
Despite some of the framerate dips, Hob is still a beautiful game. The cartoonish cel-shaded graphics add to the whimsical and otherworldly feel of the game. Each of the different areas have their own distinct look and feel, which adds a nice variety to the scenery around you. There are also specific spots you can visit that will pull back the camera so you can have a glorious view of the surrounding area. There might not be deep story driven cutscenes throughout, but there are cinematic moments after activating a main switch in which you can witness the amazing effects of the world around you drastically changing. It’s impactful in a more subtle way.
The sound design in Hob is wonderful, even though there is absolutely no voice acting. The sound effects are well done and the ambient noises are believable. The soundtrack is applied minimally and mostly makes itself present during the more cinematic moments. I think this is smart choice on their part as it adds to the experience of losing yourself within the world.
Hob is a wonderfully original game and one that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with. While there are a few noticeable issues, such as the camera and framerate, nearly all of the journey to uncover how to save your world is magical. Despite there not being much in the way of direction on what to do or where to go, I never found myself getting stuck for too long. That’s not to say the game is too easy, simply that with enough exploration and creative thinking, the solutions become apparent. Hob is a delightful game and a welcome change of pace in this highly saturated genre.
The cel-shaded cartoony art style fits the game well. There is a nice diversity between the environments, but Hob suffers from framerate drops with lots of enemies onscreen.
Despite the framerate dips and occasionally funky camera issues, the rest of the gameplay is smooth with basic yet fun combat elements. The platforming feels organic to the world around you.
There is no voice acting whatsoever, but the sound effects and subtle soundtrack are very well done.
I love the open world with almost no hand holding. It’s easy to lose yourself in this ever changing world. The camera and framerate issues aren’t enough to take away from the fun of Hob.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Hob is available now on PC, PS4, and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Hob was provided by the publisher.