A Hole New World (Xbox One Review)
I can only slightly recall the days of my SNES induction, being introduced to games like Super Mario World, Earthworm Jim, Bomberman and Castlevania IV–the latters difficulty taking me by surprise. With a constant flurry of enemies coming at me and with my inadequate gaming skills at the time, this was a challenge I could not overcome but one I still fairly enjoyed. A Hole New World plays on that nostalgia and chooses to go for the more sought after and desired 8-bit style of the NES era that people love in modern indie games today.
Versee, a planet divided into separate realms of Good and Evil, is thrown into conflict when Lord Baduk–a lord of the Evil realm–creates a fissure that tears its way through to the realm of Good and all hell breaks loose. You play as the Potion Master, a wielder of magic and far throwing and it’s upto you to stop Lord Baduk at any cost.
Playing heavily on the style of early Nintendo platformers, it’s a simple matter of getting to the far right hand side of the screen and reaching the end stage boss. Obstacles will be stacked against you, ranging frommonsters to traps and spikes, as well as A Hole New World’s main mechanic: pitfalls. Traditionally, pitfalls are a game over scenario, as you plummet to your death into the abyss.. However, in A Hole New World, that’s not the case. These pitfalls are the fissures between worlds, and falling down one sends the Potion Master to the realm opposite, in-turn flipping the screen with it. Now, everything is upside down. The HUD, environment, enemies and even the Potion Master has been flipped on their head, forcing the player to push on in this inverse manner until they find another pitfall that takes them back through to their own world. It’s a unique mechanic that easily identifies A Hole New World as its own entity in the world of 2D platformers. Even though this “inverse” world plays a pivotal role in A Hole New World’s story, playing in such a manner becomes bothersome when playing for extended periods of time. Jumping over enemy projectiles and negotiating some of the more problematic labyrinthine stages starts to drill down on your nerves and patience.
That’s all until you reach A Hole New World’s end level boss fights, then you realise that those racked nerves are going to be even more frayed after your encounters with these menaces. Usually each boss has a predictable set of moves that you judge and react to accordingly, but that pattern is randomised. They could throw out the same move continually or switch it up whenever you feel like it. Some can be reacted to instantly while others can seem rather unfair. Even more so, some bosses have large area-of-effect moves that can be almost impossible to dodge, leading to a battle of attrition over one of wits, in hopes you don’t die before they do.
As each boss goes down, you are rewarded with a new Gem–a tool used to restore the world’s back to their normal state–and with them comes an upgrade to the Potion Master’s magical repertoire. These new potions have different purposes, some being able to deal damage to foes through walls whilst others ricochet off walls and hit those behind cover. There’s only a small quantity of other options available to the Potion Master throughout his quest, but they feel impactful and all have a sense of purpose.
One thing that A Hole New World’s inverse realm doesn’t take away from the game is it’s environmental art style. From scenes of forest set ablaze to hellish caverns full of bloody carvings, each of the five stages is more ascribable than the last. When plunging to the other realm, the colours of the world shift to reflect which world you are in; the Good being more vibrant and warm and Evil more cold and muted. It’s not only the colours that bring the environments to life but you get to meet a few NPC’s in the world of Versee too. Although interactivity is at a minimum when NPC’s appear, their animations help bring life to Versee’s dying world.
If you haven’t been put off by the difficulty of the boss encounters and manage to overcome all odds and beat the game, you’ll be rewarded with Story+. This is mode is rather self explanatory, you can carry across all the skills you have acquired and replay through the game again, with a twist. Large portions of the game have now been inverted to play as the inverse world, and pitfalls now take you to the normal, right side up world. Not only that, but enemy placements have changed and included enemies from later stages appearing in earlier ones. It keeps A Hole New World going a bit longer but Story+ is nothing special, especially since you need to bear having to do most of it upside down.
Story+ isn’t the only avenue to go down upon completion of A Hole New World. Challenge Mode and Boss Rush become available to the masochists who dare attempt them. Challenge Mode is an ever-increasing difficult stage of death defying moments–nslaughts of enemies and no breathing room. Boss Rush mode isn’t any different, fight after fight you’ll need to prevail without succumbing to death unless you wish to start again.
A Hole New World is one that puts nostalgia at the forefront of the experience, with gameplay reminiscent of early NES/SNES titles, even its difficulty brings back troubled memories of defeat. Though this may all be well and good for those who remember those days of lives and continues, it might be a slightly disparaging experience for those who don’t. With a brutal difficulty curve and a short lifespan as stages aren’t exactly long, A Hole New World could be a divisive retro platformer that not everyone will be able to get behind.