STAFF REVIEW of A Hole New World (Xbox One)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

A Hole New World Box art It’s not uncommon these days to launch a Kickstarter to help fund a game, going from concept to reality. A Hole New World is no different, as a few years ago it had a modest goal of $8000, which luckily was met. Their pitch was to have a NES inspired retro title with modern playability and mechanics, so clearly there is still a desire for gamers to have this type of game in their library. Well, the game is now on the Xbox One for console players, and I’m always excited to play some NES retro goodness as that was my childhood as a young gamer.

Created with simplicity in mind, A Hole New World doesn’t over complicate things with tons of mechanics or fancy features. In fact, if you didn’t know it was a recent release you would most likely mistake it for a classic NES game from decades ago, that’s how well they nailed not only the retro visuals, but the incredibly challenging gameplay as well. You start out only being able to attack by lobbing an endless amount of potions, but you eventually learn new abilities and attacks as you progress through the handful of worlds.

You play as a potion master who is seemingly the only one that can defeat the evil Lord Baduk, an enemy who has torn the world in two after finding one of the world’s powerful and mystic crystals. The regular upper world is good, while the invasion of enemies have come from the evil one below. You’ll need to traverse across through both worlds, and many levels, to finish your journey, but don’t expect it to be an easy feat, as the classic and challenging gameplay of an era gone by has been amped up, even seeming unfair at times.

Within minutes of playing you’ll recognize the games that inspire A Hole New World, as there are traces of Castlevania, Mega Man, and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts to just name a few. There’s no easy mode setting or tutorial, but it does boast that you should already know how it play with its simplistic jump and shoot control scheme, and it’s true. While it’s quite difficult later on, you should instinctively know how to play right from the get-go. Pressing ‘A’ will jump and ‘X’ will shoot, and eventually when you gain more potion types you can switch between them quickly with the bumpers. If you’ve ever played any of these types of classic games before, you’ll have no problem jumping right in.

As mentioned above, the developers absolutely nailed the visuals, making it look like a classic NES title with its retro graphics. The spritework is amazing and the animations are fluid, just as if they belong in the NES era of gaming. I swear some of the animations were taken directly from some classic games like Castlevania, that’s how great they look. Controls are just as tight, as you’ll jump and move exactly where you want, and when you die, it’s usually your own fault; usually.

The world setup is taken from classic gaming as well, as you’ll need to progress from world to world, defeating the big bad boss that, once defeated, grants you access to a new type of attack, a la Mega Man of sorts. Your default potion attack is a simple arced lob, but as you vanquish each boss from the worlds you’ll gain new attacks like a lightning strike, fire and ice ricochet and more. You’ll need to combine all your attack types with jumps and dodges if you want to progress, and eventually you’ll hit a brick wall of difficulty, especially once you’re forced to traverse the underworld more often.

One mechanic I didn’t expect, and actually found out by accident, was a dual world mechanic, going back and forth between the two main worlds. Most games from this era had tons of pits that if fallen into would instantly kill you, but in A Hole New World the game takes you to the other world underneath. So, when you first fall into a pit by accident, don’t expect to die, as you’ll be underneath the surface still playing. When you’re in this other world though, everything it’s reversed, as you’re walking on the ceiling and gravity is reversed, so this gameplay can mess with your mind, even more so when gameplay becomes chaotic with tons of enemies shooting and chasing you.

The difference between the two worlds is noticeable, as the overworld is bright and colorful while the underworld has an evil vibe with fire and poison traps all around. The underworld isn’t just a pallet swap either, and in the later worlds, when you’re forced to play more underneath the surface, you’re going to curse yourself for not getting used to the ‘backwards’ world earlier on.

The game's difficulty has to be noted. Now, I know that games back in the NES era were difficult by design, but wow, the difficulty of this game really spikes right around the second world boss. All of sudden you’re constantly dying and you have to be much slower and methodical with your plan of attack. Boss fights are the worst for this offence, as normally it’s simply a matter of memorizing their attack patterns and adjusting, but most bosses do massive attacks that can cover nearly the whole screen. At first I thought I could hide from these projectiles by jumping to the underworld, but nope, they go across both of the worlds’ plains. Expect to get hit and die a lot, especially during boss fights where you’ll need to hit continue a dozen times or so while you pray for some luck.

Many enemies start to become unfairly cheap as well, as eventually their projectiles can travel through barriers, yet you’re unable to do so. Just like in classic Mega Man fashion, if there’s a single platform you need to jump to, I guarantee there will be some sort of enemy waiting for you there or one around the area just about to shoot something your way to cause you to fall off. It becomes frustrating and seemingly unfair at times; nothing that can’t be learned, but be aware you’ll need some patience.

Not only does the art style and graphics fit the 'classic' era, but so does the music. The melodies fit the mood and tone of the world you’re in, though expect to hear the same riffs over and over, as it restarts every time you die, just as it did back then as well. Some modern day enhancements have been added though, as there is the option for a New Game+ if you have the fortitude to actually complete the game the first time through, Boss Rush, and more, so those seeking a challenge and longevity, you’ll be happy to know there’s a lot of content here for the price.

There is one massive black stain on the whole experience that I ran into many times, resulting in numerous unfair deaths. When there’s too much going on the screen due to enemies, projectiles, or both, the framerate starts to tank horrendously. The odd dip here and there could be tolerated, but in a game where you need perfect precision to live with a small health pool, and framerates dipping down to literally 0 at points, it’s unacceptable. Even during boss fights there were times where they did their massive area attacks and the framerate literally stops for moments, causing numerous unfair deaths.

At the end of the day, even though I personally feel the difficulty was set a little too high, I enjoyed my time with A Hole New World for the most part, save for the horrendous framerate issues that pop up here and there. I grew up in the NES area of gaming, so titles like this are close to my heart and whisk me back to a day where I would sit at home all day on the couch trying to beat a single game. Sure, the game is unfair at times with its difficulty, but that’s how games were back then, and this is a love letter to an era long gone, which is a shame, as the artwork and gameplay comes from a special time in gaming, something you don’t see replicated well very often.

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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