The world is under threat in plenty of video games. In Hob, the world is broken, a vast mechanism that has been gummed up and misaligned. Your job is to save it by fixing it, wielding a sword that looks like a key and tinkering with locks and escapements and cogs and gears, realigning, repositioning, sliding crucial pieces back into place.
There is a thing out there in the world these days called lock sports: people love locks and keys and spend their spare time learning how to mess with them, how to play with tumblers and get the pins bouncing. It is recreational lock-picking, basically, and there’s a lot of that appeal to Hob, as you move around, a Link-alike in a carefully reconfigured Hyrule. It goes some way to explaining why this action RPG above all others lingers in the mind and is well worth a second replay now it’s finally landed on Switch.
But there’s another reason, I think. Hob is almost a very cute game. You are small and determined, and the world is lush and pretty in its greenery, in its sculpted stones and brilliant use of copper to accent then ancient machines and give them a surprising texture. But there is also a splinter of malice in there, a sharp darkness that sticks. There’s the pink goop that is spoiling this landscape for starters. Then there is the uncanny long legs and long necks of the creatures you come across, limbs extended and knees knobbly, everything just a little bit off.
And at the start there is that astonishing opening, which, spoilers, I’m about to ruin, so skip ahead past the end of this paragraph if you’d prefer not to know. Hob starts in darkness. You are imprisoned inside what looks like a hollow in a tree of some kind. The door is forced open by a friendly robot and with them you travel out into this beautiful summery landscape, learning to jump and climb and scamper. The place seems dormant but filled with possibilities, but then, as you play, you get some of this awful pink stuff on your hands and you fall and start to fit. Your friend the robot rushes over, and knows exactly what to do. And what he does is produce a huge copper blade from his arm, and then he brings it down on your wrist. Cut to black.
Such an intricate, imaginative, surprising game. And such energising cruelty to make your mission truly count. The sad thing – saddest of all now that Hob is new again and on such a perfect platform – is that this quest to save a world could not save its own developer. Runic Games, which previously made Torchlight and Torchlight 2, bowed out with Hob; its ingenious beauty marks the end of something special, rather than the beginning.