Both pixel art and platformers are very well represented on Switch right now. Whether it's indie darlings such as Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove and Super Meat Boy, or third-party mascots Sonic and Rayman. Jumping, running and combat feel as ubiquitous to the system as the legendary first-party side-scrollers of yore, at least until Mario gets bored of his globe-trotting antics and returns to the two-dimensional Mushroom Kingdom. Next in an increasing line of retro inspired titles comes A Hole New World from Dolores Entertainment and MadGearGames.
Playing as a mysterious cloaked hero, you are trying to save Versee from the evil Lord Baduk and a slew of mythical demons, beasts and other such nastiness across half a dozen themed stages. To restore peace and harmony you must also slay the huge end of level bosses and acquire a set of magical potions to use to complete your quest. These potions can be switched on the fly with a press of the trigger buttons. The controls are very simple to grasp, but the trajectory of throwing the potions will take some practice, especially when taking on fast moving enemies or during boss fights.
While the story is pretty derivative and negligible, the game does try to employ a few presentation and mechanical hooks to make it stand out from the crowd. First of all, in attempt to subvert (more more fittingly, invert) the age-old genre trope of avoiding gaps so as to not plummet to your doom, AHNW's main crux is exactly the opposite. Falling down a hole to enter the dark world is unfortunately not so much encouraged but necessary to progress, as there aren't any alternate paths or many secrets to discover, save for increasing your score by collecting crystals or regaining health by eating chicken drumsticks.
You'll go between the 'regular' world and the 'dark' world where you continue your adventure with opposing gravity, a moodier colour palette and more vicious creatures to take out. When it works well, alternating between the two to traverse platforms and dodge environmental hazards is a satisfying test of timing and skill, it's just a disappointment that with the tease of a portal like reliance on momentum, there isn't much in the way of puzzle ideas or secret areas to explore.
For as faithful as it is to the NES era of challenging side-scrollers such as Ghouls 'N Ghosts, the parallax scrolling and effects are accomplished. The environments are detailed, animations are smooth and even though the bosses do employ the traditional methodology of studying limited attack patterns, they are pretty impressive in size and variety, if not quantity. Likewise, the rich and catchy chiptune soundtrack is solid and each track fits the environment well. Unfortunately, it's almost too faithful to the era, as we experienced intermittent framerate stutters that were inconsistent with the nature of the action on screen. Curiously, it would hold up well during more chaotic action, but chug in the aftermath.
As with other retro inspired titles (and in fact proclaimed by the developers), A Hole New World has a degree of difficulty that some would call old school, but others might just call unfair. The lives system has been rejigged a little, as quite generously spaced checkpoints or being revived by your fairy companion deceivingly make proceedings more manageable.
It isn't long before frustration sets in, as you'll be bombarded with swooping bats that are barely distinguishable from the dark background, ambushed by lightning-quick pouncing wolves, or even just zapped by lightning, all while hordes of lumbering monsters take several well-timed hits to take down. It can become an exercise less in strategy or skill, but just taking a hit, being temporarily invincible and running for your life. In line with more modern trends, there is a new game plus mode, boss rush, challenges and multiple endings to stretch out the initial hour or two play time.
A competent and authentic 8-bit experience, A Hole New World will be enjoyed by many a retro fan out there, but the some of its mechanical elements are faithful almost to its detriment. Travelling between the dual worlds is cool, but utilised without much ambition or variety. While certainly not a bad game, the methods employed to enforce difficulty feel cheap and frustrating, rather than motivating or rewarding. A few of the bosses are visually impressive, but there isn't much here structurally or gameplay wise that particularly stand out . If you're looking for another title with more nostalgia and 'traditional' challenge rather than sadistic, fast-paced, twitch-based platformers, then A Hole New World is an adequate game that will bring back many memories of the 8-bit era, for better or worse.