If you are of a certain age, it’s hard not to embrace a game that’s been so heavily influenced by our childhoods. However, it’s not just the retro visuals and sounds that complete the nostalgic crave, it’s the warts and all that truly make a gamer in his mid 30’s feel at home. This is what A Hole New World gets right – whether it be intentional, or a mere happy accident. Not only does this title look and sound like a NES game, it also has some of the imperfections of one too.
The world has been split in half. The surface full of peace and prosperity, and its parallel underbelly full of chaos and rage. Suddenly, the seal that divides them both is broken, causing havoc amongst the goodness of the land. As a result, the fate of the future depends on the hooded alchemist known only as the Potion Master, willing to put the balance back in check.
Developed by Mad Gear Games, A Hole New World is a straight up 8-bit action platformer that pays homage to classics such as the original Castlevania, Mega Man and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. You start off being able to do little more than jump and throw potions as if you were Plague Knight’s apprentice. While you can also launch your unlimited supply of Erlenmeyer flasks directly above or below you, it’s the curve in your trajectory that you must get used to in order to nail that successful shot. You do have a little fairy companion that you can charge up to fire off a direct horizontal blast. However, due to the potions being faster and effective on impact, led me to almost forget that the fairy was even a feasible option.
You can obtain new potions to deal more damage as you progress further. This works by beating bosses and claiming their power just like the blue bomber would from back in the day. A lightning strike from above comes in handy against a colony of bats, while a bouncy fireball into a horde of zombies will make quite the barbecue. It’s all pretty much straightforward platforming and baddie-bashing, accompanied by an inverted twist.
In the old Castlevania games, taking damage would activate a hit stun that will more than likely knock you back into a pit of doom. A Hole New World has a similar hit stun and animation, except rather than fall to your death you pop out the other end into the parallel darkness of an upside down world. It is this upended platforming that instantly reminded me of a NES game called The Adventures Of Rad Gravity, which was rather terrible but became a somewhat guilty pleasure of mine. It was a game that blew my little 9-year old mind due to its upside down planet, Turvia.
Despite a handful of moments where you are forced to dip in and out of both worlds, a lot of the time it’s down to you to decide which side you want to venture through. It’s a cool element to the gameplay if a little underused, as your only real need to explore both worlds fully will depend on whether or not you want to collect all the gems that are left lying about. There’s plenty of enemies to tackle, some possessing the awkward attack patterns like the games of old. And the difficulty spikes can be as unbalanced as many of the third-party NES games that once littered the old grey box.
The biggest telltale sign of its modern development lies within the checkpointing system. They’re quite frequent and will spawn you back to the nearest one when all your lives are spent. This makes A Hole New World a lot less punishing than it could have been. Which in turn, also makes the levels a little easy to manage to make the game as a whole feel very short. The same can’t be said for the bosses, however, for they have no quarrels at all against beating you into the ground. From the third boss onwards, they can seem almost impossible to manage. However, each boss does have a tactic to help you to overcome them – unlike the final battle with the main villain, which I did have a hell of a lot of trouble with.
Despite some maze-like elements, A Hole New World is a very linear experience. There’s only a handful of levels to venture through and it never quite hits the charm like Shovel Knight did – even though there is some clear resemblance in presence to it. Visually, it stays faithful enough to feel old school which includes crashing sprite flickers of defeating an enemy and some blatantly unintended slowdown. I couldn’t help but feel that it would have been nice to see some sort of CRT-style screen filter to really push that nostalgia further. The audio that ties it together is, again, very faithful to the past, with its catchy 8-bit chiptune BGM that can also be changed to a 16-bit variant.
A Hole New World is decent enough to blast through for some nostalgic kicks. While there’s certainly a challenge to this title, the difficulty balance between the bosses and levels do seem worlds apart. It’s a brief experience on the whole, but the New Game+ and Challenge mode you unlock once you beat it do provide some longevity aside from collecting the 150 gems, at least. The upside down element does give the game an interesting spin. Although, the lack of platform puzzling that could have easily taken advantage of the mechanic can, unfortunately, leave it feeling a bit gimmicky overall.