Even in the midst of enormous open-world games and immersive experiences, there is still plenty of room for good ol' action platforming titles. These were big staples during the 8 and 16-bit eras but are making a return in numbers thanks to indie development. A Hole New World is just one of these titles, but it removes the drawn out tutorials and overcomplicated controls to keep things simple; just play the damn game.
On the surface, A Hole New World looks to be a normal 8-bit action platformer. The graphics are quite detailed and colorful, the action is fast, and the challenge ramps up in a way reminiscent of the NES titles that inspired it. But below the surface, literally, there is a bit of a twist to this adventure. As you encounter open pits in your adventure past experiences would tell you to jump and avoid falling in. This is not the case with A Hole New World. As the name implies, jumping into these pits takes the player to a world different than from the normal one we occupy.
This ties into the game's story, in which the world of Versee is taken over by evil. The creator of the world, the goddess Yakshini, decides to use her powers to split the two worlds in order to separate good and evil. Naturally, evil finds a way to return when Lord Baduk obtains one of the sacred orbs Yakshini left behind. In true NES form, the story is presented each time the game is "turned on" and further details are shown at the start of a new game.
The gameplay is very easy to pick up and learn, with A and X (if using an Xbox controller) serving as your two main inputs. As the Potion Master, you must make your way to the end of the stage and deal with the boss at the end, standard NES gameplay. Your character controls quite easily, whether that it is jumping over platforms or attacking your enemies. The control here is very tight and responsive, which is necessary for the game's later stages that can be quite challenging. Inspiration just doesn't come in the form of graphics and gameplay, but responsive controls as well.
At the end of the stage, you're confronted with a boss fight in order to progress. Not always contained to a single screen, the boss battles begin fairly easy but become quite thrilling in the later stages. You can tackle them in different ways but learning their attack patterns is crucial to prevent your death. Fortunately, checkpoints are placed right outside of the boss fights, making additional attempts fast and easy. Even when they progressively become more difficult, I never found the bosses to be cheap or unfair. To be honest, there are a few attacks that will make you go "how do I get around that?". With patience, and perhaps a few retries, you'll discover ways to avoid these devastating attacks and turn the tables. The boss fights gave me the old "NES sweaty palm" feel where every move is tense. In part, they are one of the best parts of the game.
Once the main level boss has been defeated, you'll gain a new potion that gives you a new attack. The new attacks have different ranges and patterns, meaning some work better than others depending on the situation. Sometimes a new potion is needed to open an area within a level, with one particular area later in the game requiring you to switch between potions in order to navigate. The game does a great job of balancing the different attacks so you cannot just spam one potion through the rest of the game. Switching between them can be vital and knowing which one is best for the current situation is done through good ol' experimentation.
Although there are only six levels, they all feel unique and present the player with varied challenges. A lot of these come from the "hole" twist mentioned earlier. As you jump into a hole, you'll pop out on the other side to almost a "mirror" version of the normal world. The perspective changes as you find yourself upside down on the screen and it can take a bit to get used to. Thankfully, the controls are still solid in this other world and I did not find myself having any problems going between them in terms of controls. Transitioning from one world to the next is quite easy as your character pops into the new world with a second to decide where to land. There are a few sections that require you to jump between worlds to get through the level and they're done quite cleverly. Hazards and enemies might appear on the other side but I felt that I had enough time to try to counter anything I ran into.
A Hole New World has that classic "NES hard" feel to it. By the third level, you encounter new enemies that make you think twice before just rushing through the level. The difficulty spike feels pretty good as you're progressively given harder enemies and platforms to conquer. The game is constantly challenging you by presenting an obstacle, then giving you a greater challenge based on the one you just completed. Checkpoints feel appropriately placed, there was only one instance where I felt that the first checkpoint for the level was too far out. That was near the end of the game where it was trying to "teach me" to be better. A Whole New World does a great job of constantly challenging your skills without being too overbearing.
In true NES fashion, there are a few secrets to find along your adventure. Discovering some of these will greatly help by increasing your life meter, which you will surely need near the end of your journey. Multiple endings can be had and a New Game + mode flips the worlds from one another. You'll start with all the powers of your previous run, but you're going to need them as the enemies are relentless.
It may look like an average platformer but do not sleep on A Hole New World. The level design is well thought out and the twist of jumping between worlds works and feels great. The soundtrack is above average when it comes to 8-bit tunes and the graphics pop out with color and detail. The game is packed with action and challenge that beckon to the old NES days where grit and determination paved the way to success. Despite finishing it in a few hours, A Hole New World is a solid old-school action platformer that will appeal to gamers new and old.
+ Great old-school gameplay
+ NES hard style of challenge
+ Tight and responsive controls
+ Graphics and sound match the era
- Can be finished in one sitting
Time Played: 5 hours (on PC)
Available on PC