When village sim Hokko Life first entered the spotlight back in February, many were quick to point out its similarities to Animal Crossing. It's easy to see why: it offers cute animal villagers in a peaceful town; activities like fishing and bug catching; and a relaxing ambience free of stress and challenge. These are all defining features of Nintendo's village sim.
Hokko Life may share many of the same elements as Animal Crossing, one which solo-developer Robert Tatnell wholeheartedly embraces, but it's still exciting to see another cute social sim in the works. And unlike Animal Crossing, Hokko Life will release on PC.
Tatnell is still in the early stages of developing Hokko Life but, when it's released, it looks like the sim will sit comfortably beside other wonderfully mellow games on PC, like Stardew Valley, My Time at Portia, and A Short Hike. Tatnell has previously worked for Liongean on the Fable games and more recently for Arrowhead as Art Director on a Gauntlet remaster, but wanted to move in a new, independent direction. Hoko Life first started out as a train tycoon simulator when Tatnell began the solo project back in 2017. It then slowly developed into something else.
"I've been working on it full time for almost three years now; actually it'll be three years this month if I'm not mistaken," Tatnell says. "I knew, in the beginning, I wanted to make a game where you build up a town and create things, and then Hokko Life sort of grew naturally over time to what it is now."
"Initially the game started more like Transport Tycoon, placing train tracks and transporting villagers and goods between towns. But over time I began to realise that I was more interested in what the little villagers were up to in the towns than managing trains. Bit by bit the camera zoomed in and I kept adding more life and interactions to the villagers."
Although Tatnell has moved away from a transport tycoon game, you can see echoes of the resource and building management in Hokko Life. There's a stronger emphasis on crafting and detailed customisation than other community-life sims. Tatnell says that most of your time in Hokko Life will be spent in the workshop, crafting furniture and using the customisation tool to put your own artistic flair on wallpaper, flooring, clothing, and furniture sets.
The workshop editor will let you combine pieces of furniture and paints together, inviting players to be more creative. It sounds like a combination of My Time at Portia and Minecraft, where you first gather resources and then decide if you want to craft from a blueprint or start completely from scratch. There's a carpenter who will have new crafting recipes, paintbrushes, and 3D designs for you to purchase.
"There's a whole bunch of different shapes and special pieces you can use to put your own creative stamp onto everything you make," Tatnell says. "This editing ability can be used on existing items in the world too, or you can download creations from the community into your town and tweak it into something more you."
Gathering resources will involve mining, chopping down trees, and growing produce. Hokko Life is still in its early stages of development, but Tatnell has a good idea about what he would like to do with its gardening system. "You'll be growing resources for crafting, as well as vegetables that can be sold as a means of raising cash for your village," Tatnell says. "I'm keen to give the vegetables more of a role in the game too, so I'll be playing around with some ideas for how they can be more interesting for players from a gameplay perspective."
As much as I love Stardew Valley, there's a pressure with its bulk production and exhaustion meter that puts me in a certain mindset. The gardening in Hokko Life sounds like it will have a much smaller scope and a slower rhythm, a welcome feature for those who find Stardew's farming a little intense.
The heartwarming core of any life sim is the characters you'll meet, and in Hokko Life there are a host of friendly critters to chat to. These characters start out as visitors to your village. To get one to move in you'll need to become good friends with them first.
"Forming friendships with the other villagers will be a big part of the game," Tatnell says "Based on how close you are to a character you'll unlock new dialogue options along with different interactions too. Right now I'm also investigating ways of having the villagers support the player in their activities too; I want to make them feel like they add something more to your village and aren't just 'there' wandering around."
These villagers will have their own homes that the player can customise. Crafting materials you can't gather from the world are available to purchase in the general store, as well as furniture, wallpaper, flooring, and home accessories. "There's also a fashion store that lets you buy new outfits as well as change up your appearance," Tatnell says. "And the builder's hut will be your go-to location when you want to build new houses or if you're looking for a new roof or wall design."
Crafting, gardening, and the way you interact with villagers are all pretty different from Animal Crossing. It's still easy to see Animal Crossing's influence, but the comparison to Nintendo's village sim is part of a bigger picture: the expansion of genres that have been left relatively untouched. When working on Stardew Valley, developer Eric Barone said he was heavily inspired by the Harvest Moon series and, more recently, Crema created the MMORPG Temtem that was heavily inspired by Pokémon.
Tatnell thinks seeing these titles taking on Nintendo's formulas and reworking them is refreshing. He fully embraces the comparisons people have drawn between Hokko Life and Animal Crossing. "I think the comparison with Animal Crossing makes a lot of sense," Taynell says. "If you look at other genres like the FPS, for example, you've got one or two games that started everything, and since then we've seen a lot of different takes on that base game over the years, tweaking that basic formula.
"I think because games like Animal Crossing, Pokémon and Harvest Moon haven't seen anything similar, it makes a bigger splash when something else comes along; this will change though I think over time. Game development has become more open over the years, and the barrier of entry is a lot lower. We've got smaller publishers willing to invest and work with more niche titles too, so I really believe we're going to see more titles within these genres coming in the future."
Although it's still early in development, it's easy to see that Hokko Life will fit in with other good-natured fun titles we can play on PC. It looks like it will be perfect for Animal Crossing fans who want to stretch their creative brain muscles. There's no release date yet, but Tatnell has recently signed with indie publisher Team 17 so production is well underway. You can keep an eye on Hokko Life's development on its Steam page.