As someone that has always admired Nintendo’s brand of whimsical and wholesome titles from afar, never quite mustering up the courage to branch out to another strand of consoles for more than a generation, I have found myself locked away from titles that have had the gaming Populus enamored.
I didn’t get to witness the sublime mechanics of Breath of the Wild until Fenyx: Immortals Rising and Genshin Impact put their own spin on things. I never got the chance to play genre-defining titles on the Gamecube like Pikmin or Super Mario Sunshine, and aside from LittleBigPlanet, I have never had access to a life simulator sandbox akin to Animal Crossing. Well, that is until now in the form of Hokko Life.
The indie game featured in this Hokko Life Review is the non-Nintendo player’s way to experience gameplay that is so closely tied to Animal Crossing that they might as well sue Team17 here and now. Admittedly, it’s not quite the same as there are aspects of Hokko life that make it slightly more linear, and there is a unique design feature that gives players autonomy over the assets within the world, rather than relying on ol’ Tom Nook to restock his shop. Or worse, have to wait for in-game timed events. That being said though, the similarities between Animal Crossing and this new clone are as clear as day.
You may be wondering though, if this game is so closely linked to the long-running Nintendo property, why don’t I just stick to the tried and tested franchise? It’s a great question and one I aim to answer in this review.
Here we will be looking at whether Hokko Life establishes its own identity, whether the game has as much charm and features, and overall refinement when compared to AC, and we will ultimately be looking at whether this game justifies the price of admission. So join me, here is my Hokko Life review, conducted on PS5.
Are You Guys Twins?
Let’s talk visuals and overall presentation. There is no getting around it. This game looks just like Animal Crossing, and we are talking about lawsuit levels of close. The game has that same washed-out pastel color scheme, uses similar puffy animal character models, has similar text boxes and UI, and in terms of design, everything feels eerily similar. You have a village where you can build houses, fish in the river, talk to your residents that free roam, you have a house of your own that you can decorate, and there is a shop that is nearly identical to Tom Nooks store layout.
I could go on, but it’s genuinely quicker to say that if you are thinking of an aspect of Animal Crossing and wondering if Hokko Life has replicated it, let me save you some time, they have. Just without the oodles of charm that Animal Crossing boasts with every new release.
The soundtrack even feels similar in the way that it utilizes calming string instrument riffs and folksy tunes to keep things light and breezy as you bounce from one task to another. It has me consistently asking, how the hell can they get away with this, and the conclusion I came to was that they stripped all the nuance and charm from each asset.
The characters don’t speak with that iconic Animal Crossing mumble. They don’t have quips or taglines, the in-game events feel drab and forced, and the amount of unique in-game assets that belong to townsfolk is significantly less and far less refined.
Then to top it all off, the performance isn’t fantastic. The shaders often misbehaved leading to strange things happening on screen, and asset textures were often inconsistent, which is something that shouldn’t be happening on much more powerful hardware. Overall, the visuals are fine, but they lean too much on the existing content available in Animal Crossing and the game visually fails to create its own unique look and feel.
Glorified Busy Work
As you would imagine having read the above section, the gameplay on offer within Hokko Life leans heavily on the AC formula too. In fact, the game is practically the same in terms of the format and the overall gameplay loop.
The player will need to start a village from scratch, find residents and help them move in, and furnish their houses while making their own homes look pretty. You’ll then also have to fish, bug collect, and collect resources to make unique furniture and tools, then after that, the game leaves you to your own devices so you can manage and care for the community you have created. However, once again, everything feels less refined than its established counterpart.
The fishing and bug collecting feel much less skilled-based, and there is much less collecting to be done if you want to complete the respective sets. The resource management is all pretty one note. The crafting system requires the player to head a fixed position on the map, making everything feel more labored than it has to be. I know Ac does this too, but it’s a shared annoyance.
Then continuing, interactions with villagers consist of repeated lines as if you are pulling a string on a doll, or they ask you to do something for very little reward. The interior design assets available within the shop are all pretty underwhelming, and the in-game merits system, mirroring Nook Miles, is incredibly unsatisfying. Often rewarding you with things that should simply be available from the get-go, like the in-game map for example.
The only unique aspect of gameplay that feels like a step away from the AC formula is the farming aspect of this game which allows you to create recipes for villagers. AC has farming of course, but it’s used more as a money-making venture than a gift-giving/quest system, so while it’s different, it’s not too far of a leap. However, in the end, this ultimately feels like an extension of the task system, merely offering slight variety long after the tasks offered become stale and repetitive.
I guess the plan there was to borrow some charm from Stardew Valley, but as has been the case with many indies post-2015, this one fails to capture that charm as well. In short, the gameplay is Animal Crossing but on a much smaller scale, and without the strong core gameplay loop and leaves you hankering for more.
Progression Feels Like a Chore
I need to talk about the progression here in more detail, as it is a real issue. Let’s begin with the tutorial sections and the general task progression. The game does a very poor job at signposting where the player needs to go, and what they are meant to do. Which at the beginning of a game can really put a dent in player retention.
There were several moments where the game didn’t set a clear goal, expected me to join the dots myself, and even when I did, it expected me to do things in a ridiculous sequence. An example is when I helped a villager make a chair for his home, placed it in his house, he sat in the chair, and yet he would still not progress the quest as it was not in my inventory. Three words, stupid game design.
Then jump to the ‘Merit system’. This is something that is supposed to mirror Nook Miles. However, the thing about Nook Miles is that it tends to unlock cool in-game assets, crafting recipes, and genuinely useful things.
Whereas Hokko’s merit system seems to reward the player with basic mechanics like sprinting to name an example, and I can only assume that this is because there were too few assets to really reward the player consistely.
Which begs the question, why crowbar in a reward system at all? As it doesn’t keep players engaged, but rather gatekeeps basic assets that the player would have much more fun using from the start of their experience.
In general, this lack of guidance, a clear roadmap for players to succeed, and the lack of suitable rewards for their efforts all culminate to leave the player with feeling aimless, and had it not been for professional obligation, I would have left this one to rot in my game library unfinished for eternity long before I did.
So if you aim to brave this game and ‘finish’ it, then be prepared for a significant and swift loss of steam followed by hours of mindless nothingness.
if you have got to this point, you might have written this game off as a poorly designed Animal Crossing clone, and I can’t really blame you, as the game hasn’t given me the tools to paint a prettier picture. However, we now arrive at the part that might just save this game’s bacon.
If we look at Animal Crossing once more, I would ask you, does the game offer a lot of room for creativity? Sure, it allows you to place pre-made assets wherever you like, and gives you a tonne to choose from. Plus, you can create your own clothing. However, the game does keep a lock and key on asset design, because if you were able to create your own in-game assets, then why would you buy expansions, tune in for live events and get excited about updates?
Well, Hokko Life has seen this corporate greed for what it is, and within its second-rate Animal Crossing clone, it has included a first-rate design tool with lots of flexibility that allows you to create in-game assets and furniture from scratch. The best way I can describe it is by comparing it to the Gummi Ship Builder within the Kingdom Hearts series.
You have a grid to work within, tonnes of pieces and templates to choose from, and the freedom to create just about anything that your imagination can conjure up. I’ll admit, the builder isn’t exactly intuitive and I reckon many will struggle to learn the ropes. However, when you get the knack for it, you realize that anything is possible. It’s like Dreams, but with an interior design spin.
This is the USP of Hokko Life, not the core gameplay, not the story (if there is any), and not the characters within. It’s the open-ended creative freedom that it grants players.
So if you can look past the janky parts, you’ll see that this game (provided it builds a respectable player base) could be a giant killer that renders future Animal Crossing releases redundant. It’s a long shot, but hey, who knows?
if you are looking for something that offers a similar gameplay format, offers lighthearted and whimsical gameplay, to something that has a similar allowance for creativity in a sandbox environment, then you might just want to check out these titles listed below:
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons
- Stardew Valley
- My Time at Portia
- Harvest Moon
- Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town
- The Sims
- Little Dragon Cafe
Overall, Hokko Life is a fair attempt from an independent publisher trying to usurp Animal Crossing from its rightful throne as the ruler of all whimsical life simulators. All the parts are there. You have the vibrant colors, the cute designs, and animal villagers, you have the village you can create in your own image, the fishing and bug collecting aspects, a chill soundtrack to guide you from task to task, and you have a merit system, not unlike Nook Miles.
However, what this game fails to understand is why people like to do these things in Animal Crossing. In that game, the tasks all feel beneficial to the player. You are either getting money, new friends, access to new areas, or paying off your loan to get a bigger home.
Hokko life misses the mark on this front, offering a tonne of busy work that only leads to more busy work. The tasks feel like menial chores and the rewards don’t feel very satisfying. However, to defend this game, It’s the best direct example of this game format you will find outside of a Nintendo platform, and thanks to the open-ended design features, you are no longer penned in by game designers that want to strictly control the in-game assets. You are only limited by your imagination and your skill when it comes to design, and while I wasn’t a natural, I’m sure many others who play Hokko Life will create staggeringly cool furniture.
Overall, I believe that as a sum of its parts, this game doesn’t even come close to rivaling AC. However, if the gaming community takes to this game and the player base is strong, this game could be a creative haven for AC fans that want to take the creative power back. I guess we will just wait and see.
- An open-ended design system that promotes endless creativity
- Cute visuals and a mellow soundtrack
- Plenty of content and replayability
- Co-op friendly
- Everything feels second best when compared to Animal Crossing
- Tutorial and guide rails don’t lead the player very well
- Tasks feel like busy work & rewards are unsatisfying
- Takes a long time to let the player off the leash
- Struggles to carve out its own unique personality
Question: Who Made Hokko Life?
Answer: Hokko Life is made by Wondescope and published by Team17, who you may know from such projects as Overcooked, Moving Out, and more recently, games like Thymesia or The Serpent Rogue.
Question: Are Animal Crossing and Hokko Life The Same?
Answer: Technically no, however, they share a lot of similarities. They have the same gameplay format where players inherit a town and must shape it in their own image. The game has similar animal characters, and a similar fishing and bug collecting mechanic. however, the core difference between the two is that Hokko Life allows players full control of asset creation, meaning you can make your own furniture and outdoor fixtures completely from scratch. Plus, there are some farming aspects in Hokko Life that AC does not have. In short, very similar but not quite identical.
Question: What Platforms Will This Game Launch On?
Answer: This game has been available for about a year on PC via early access. However, the finished version will be launching on the 27th of September and will be available on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Callum during this playthrough dedicated ten hours to this title, playing through the initial stages of the game, unlocking all the primary features, helping several villagers with their requests, decorating their home to a reasonable standard, and catching a whole bunch of fish and creepy crawlies.