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A Hole New World (PC) artwork

A Hole New World (PC) review

"A Hole New World is the new old game that retro fans have been waiting for... for the most part."

Iíve played NES-styled retro games before, but this one is on a Hole. Nova. Level. But aside from the fact that the title brings to mind old Mad TV sketches, A Hole New World is the new old game that retro fans have been waiting for... for the most part.

Think of AHNW as early Castelvania with only subweapons, no whip. The first level plays like youíre Simon Belmont hurling unlimited holy water bottles at enemies. As you strike down bosses, however, you earn orbs toward unlocking new and unique potions, and the game starts to establish its own identity.

Although, there is one other notable difference between this game and the classics it has so obviously taken inspiration from, which rears its head right away.

The holes.

The holes in A Hole New World donít lead to death as they would in any other similar-looking 2D platformer -- they lead to the Upside Down World.

A Hole New World (PC) image

Some nefarious demon in black who calls himself Lord Baduk has managed to pierce the veil between the regular world (Versee), and the dark world of monsters (Reversee). Now evil sentries of all shapes and sizes are pouring through the threshold, and you -- POTION MASTER -- are the only one who can stop them. Sure, youíve got the dimunitive fairy Fay to help you (she empowers you with a charged, fireball-like shot and revives you when you fall), but aside from her, you're on your own.

Don your cowl and cape and embark upon a quest that will take you through a village, a castle, the secret forest, the volcanic iceberg, the literal beating heart of evil, and the black tunnels of hell, home to the very worms that gnaw. As the challenges before you mount, your arsenal too becomes steadily more potent: from your basic arc projectile, to the lightning potion which begins with pitifully restricted range and manifests as a platform penetrating pillar of electric death. Next up is the ice and fire potion which sends alternating currents diagonally, ricocheting off ceilings, floors and walls; to blood potion, which is a high-powered crimson Frisbee. The blood orb that powers the latter also allows you to slide attack, and pull off flying downward strikes.

AHNW boasts colourful graphics and good tunes, but it falls short of classic status in both departments; everything looks good, but nothing looks great, or distinct, or memorable -- not the locales, not the enemies, not even our hero. Backdrops are generally flat and uninspired, enemies designs seem random (there are flying black ghosts that look like gingerbread men). Similarly, the music is excellent while youíre actually playing -- charging, percussive low end sounds with a nimble, haunting organ overlay -- but itís certainly not-hum-it-to-yourself-the-next-day excellent.

A Hole New World (PC) image

All that said, itís the near perfect difficulty curve that makes AHNW special. When you die, you awaken right where you died. But when you have to continue (or when you die at a boss -- HINT: it will be often), you start back at the most recently activated checkpoint, and the checkpoints are ideally spaced. The inability to respawn in boss fights especially is a huge boon to the gameís staying power. Learning how to take the guardians out will genuinely test your mettle and itís a real sense of accomplishment felling each one. Spamming respawns to get by would have done a lot to push AHNW toward the pedestrian and disposable.

That the existence of Reversee safeguards us from falling deaths takes some potential challenge away. But, the flip side of the world is usually quite a bit darker and more troublesome in terms of enemy placement, besides the fact that itís decidedly more difficult to pull off the same sequences youíre accustomed to topside, when upside down. Most stages offer some optional forays down below, as well as some forced sequences.

A Hole New World (PC) image

Once you beat the game, and unlock New Game +, you begin the game in Upside Down World, and as that becomes your new normal, your short forays, optional or not, will be into right-side-up world Ė the inverse of your regular playthrough reality. Youíll also unlock a get-as-far-as-you-can Challenge Mode, which didnít excite me much, and a Boss Rush Mode that I would say could help you learn how to beat the bosses more efficiently, except since you have just the one health bar with no way to replenish it, itís difficult to get deep enough to reach the harder bosses that you really need the practice with.

Having played quite a few retro rehashes of late, and finding them all critically lacking, AHNW was a gift. Itís not perfect: besides coming off graphically and sonically unremarkable, it suffers from some bad slowdown in spots, and the pacing of stages 4 and 5 is a bit languid; given the length, somber tone and inevitable countless deaths those levels can be counted on for, some may lose interest there. But for the kind of retro players for which this game is meant, you will embrace the darkness, embrace the grind, and come out on the other side, happy that you did.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (May 19, 2017)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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EmP posted May 20, 2017:

Check you out actually enjoying a video game. And a day one review as well - I'm almost proud of you.

Good stuff, too. When I checked this game out, the reverse levels looked pretty gimmicky, so it's cool to hear they're handled well. Even if they received an awful awful name. Have some screens to celebrate.
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Masters posted May 20, 2017:

I know, right? It's been a little while. Thanks for the comments and the screens, as always.

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