To be remade, we must first come apart.
If you had told me that I’d be able to review not one, but two solid Vaporwave games this year, well… I would have believed you, because 2020 is batshit insane like that. Between Paradise Killer and HoloVista, I’m suddenly very optimistic about the genre’s future and accessibility. But where Paradise Killer grasped its underlying themes, I felt a little let down by just how subtle its aesthetics were to some degree; when it comes to Vaporwave, I like to be hit in the face with its use of color, elements, and repetitive nonsense. Something unmistakably of its genre without feeling ashamed by its derivative nature. And, hey, if there’s something original thrown in there to keep it fresh while still absolutely working with everything else, then the piece has done enough.
HoloVista is such a piece, and I couldn’t be happier with what it’s done for both mobile gaming and Vaporwave.
Developed and published by San Francisco-based team Aconite, HoloVista — described as a “360° Narrative Mind Bender” — is currently sitting pretty at #2 in Role Playing on the App Store at the time of this writing. With 5 star reviews across the board and only $4.99, HoloVista is a gorgeous narrative-driven, hidden object, social media simulator that will undoubtedly be quite different from anything else enjoyed this year. With a completion time of 2 – 4 hours and a casual mechanic that delivers some heavy material, it’s a short, sweet, and scintillating tale for the price of a cup of coffee.
HoloVista follows Carmen, a young woman with an affinity for photography living in NYC. She’s just nailed her interview at her dream company and well on her way to becoming the next big architect. After a night of living it up with her beloved besties, she shows up to her first assignment the very next morning. Her mission? Go to an undisclosed location, take plenty of photos, and post about it on social media. Sounds… weird, but also easy, right?
Right. About that. The place Carmen walks into turns out to be too good to be true. Too specific. Too personalized. It’s her style down to the smallest detail, from statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe to a blanket that looked just like the one she carried around as a child. And are those her googles she had a child? Why is the boombox playing that Selena song her grandmother always used to sing? What’s going on here?
Carmen takes photos of these beautiful yet odd details and posts them on social media. Her architect friend is impressed by the design, her transman love interest is checking up to see if she’s doing okay, and her sister is just plain concerned. Carmen has to block all this out, though — after all, rent is due and she’s a little short this week, so she really needs this job, no matter how weird things get…
Without spoiling the rest of the story, I will say that HoloVista ultimately becomes a powerful story about overcoming feelings of jealousy, guilt, inadequacy, and navigating through painful trauma to ultimately learn how to forgive oneself.
The mechanics are very intuitive for any mobile user; as Carmen is meant to photograph her experiences in this lavish mansion, a button for taking pictures will be the prominent point of input. Players can move the phone around in real life to get a 360° feel, or they can use their finger to swipe around (which I found much more convenient). Photograph prompts are given by way of listing specific items to be found then snapping a pic of them when spotted in beautifully rendered environments. Uploading images to Carmen’s social media account is done by correctly matching the image to the caption, after which Carmen can scroll through the platform to see comments and other posts her friends have made. She can then unlock more content by entering a password — something pertaining to what she’s seen in that room — which will go into more detail about her thoughts and feelings. Finally, a friend will message her to talk more about her experiences, and the next level unlocks afterwards.
HoloVista does a few things fairly revolutionary when it comes to Vaporwave; first, it introduces new elements that feel right at home with the genre. Typically you expect to see marble statues, 80s/90s technology, pink, dolphins, etc. and that’s all here. New elements include Art Deco influences, which, if they’re already used, they’re really not all that typical (I certainly don’t see them often) and Latinx-inspired themes, such as rosaries and the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. In terms of meaning, I’m not sure religious themes generally vibe with the meaningless assets vaporwave fuses together to show a world where creativity is thwarted by capitalist greed, but in terms of aesthetics these elements absolutely work and are incredibly well done.
Another thing I found particularly interesting was how it decided to present the often disorganized chaos that Vaporwave tries to be. Typically what we see in the genre is a collection of specific assets thrown together in a visually appealing matter that is often impractical and not made for human consumption. The dolphins and palm tree vibes are amazing when symmetrically aligned next to a pyramid, but there’s really no room for the human in it. In HoloVista, rooms with Vaporwave designs at first make sense — a person can definitely navigate around the elements — but as Carmen progresses, these items start making less and less sense, coming together in a chaotic fashion that Vaporwave enthusiasts would immediately recognize. I love this sort of explanation for the typical aesthetics and found that to be incredibly unique when it comes to video games that utilize the genre.
I also have to hand it to the team — HoloVista did well in terms of diversity representation. I found the characters to be fully-fleshed out individuals whose backgrounds were enriched by their differences. Carmen and Inez’s Latinx heritage was pervasive for story-telling reasons without being cliche, Jazz’s Black girl magic was a powerful force to be reckoned with yet delicately feminine in its delivery (something Black women in media are not often afforded), and Vlad’s trans background was honest and showcased the raw side of this particular experience. In fact, Vlad of all people felt the realest to me, as if I’d seen him at parties in Long Beach’s gayborhood. These weren’t just characters, these were real people, and I came to feel like I knew all of them very well by the end scene.
Unfortunately, I hate to say it, but not all is perfect with HoloVista. Using the aforementioned end scene as an example, I actually didn’t realize what was happening once I triggered it, force quitting the app to see if that “fixed it.” Turns out it was just the ending, nothing actually wrong with the game. Although it left off in the most emotionally solvent place, I honestly felt like it ended a bit too early; like I get that’s where it was supposed to finish, but there were waaaay too many loose ends for it to be over like that. Additionally, I got a pretty bad headache from the entire experience, even without using the whole 360° aspect. I don’t think everyone will get them, but I surely did. Still, these negatives don’t truly impact the entire experience, which was absolutely riveting from start to finish.
HoloVista was an incredible experience for so many different reasons, but I think my favorite was how it handled Vaporwave’s chaotic elements. Instead of trying to organize them for humans to make sense of them, it embraced their nonsensical nature, giving me an entirely new look on their existence. With a gorgeous setting, incredible writing, and intuitive mechanics that fit the game and its platform perfectly, HoloVista is a fantastic mobile game that will please anyone looking for something different, raw, and real. If you buy just one mobile game this year, make it HoloVista — you won’t regret it.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: iOS (reviewed); Publisher: Aconite; Developer: Aconite; Players: 1; Release Date: September 30th, 2020; MSRP: $4.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a copy of HoloVista given to HeyPoorPlayer by the developer.