A Hole New World

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Mad Gear Games for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2017.
A Hole New World is inspired by classic NES games and has a familiar premise: A once-peaceful land is overtaken by evil, and a goddess decides that it is best to separate the world into a realm of good and a realm of evil. However, in committing this act, the goddess is weakened, and she splits her powers up into five crystals that are spread across the light and dark worlds. Of course, everyone battles over these crystals until a supreme evil discovers one and uses it to cross over into the world of light, wreaking destruction upon the land.

Demonic creatures pour forth from the ground, and the people in the world of light find that their weapons are useless against them… except for those used by the Potion Master. You take on the role of this Potion Master as you attempt to push back the creatures from the Upside Down World, which is literally an upside-down area that can be entered by dropping through pits in the overworld. The Potion Master must pass through these pits to move back and forth between the realms, tossing potions to defeat his enemies and rescuing trapped citizens.

The Potion Master has a 2.25x jump that is nonvariable, which is unusual design for a character with such a large jump height. The game’s platforming sequences are relatively simple, so this does not cause issues with environmental navigation, but it does make the hero’s movements less precise, making it more difficult to dodge enemy attacks.

At the start of the game, the potion master can toss up to three potions to the left, right, or upward while standing or jumping, and he can toss them downward while jumping. He is also accompanied by a fairy named Fäy, which can be charged up and used as a powerful projectile to attack directly to the left or right, or upward and downward at slight angles.

The Potion Master has five units of health and a limited number of lives, but he has infinite continues. If the Potion Master dies, Fäy resurrects him on the spot (except during boss battles), and the player must use his temporary invincibility to get away from whatever killed him. Once the player has depleted his continues, he returns to the most recent checkpoint with three lives. There are five themed worlds, each of which is very large, and checkpoints are usually spaced far apart, leading to a lot of repeated gameplay if all lives are lost.

This is balanced somewhat by the presence of hidden 1UPs – often placed behind false walls – as well as a scoring system that grants the player additional lives at certain thresholds. While this design certainly falls in line with the NES-era titles that this game emulates, it leads to more frustration than the modern conceit of simply offering more regularly-spaced checkpoints. That said, combat is not overly difficult, and health restoratives appear frequently, so skilled players will make progress despite longer-than-average sections of repeated gameplay.

When the player moves between light and dark worlds, gravity is reversed, so jumping into a hole from the overworld causes the player to drop off the bottom of the screen, emerging from the top of the screen in the underworld and falling back upward (the HUD switches from the top to bottom as well). The player must press to the left or right to land on a solid platform, lest he simply fall back into the overworld. Gravity-flipping is only used for environmental traversal and is never explored as a spatial puzzle mechanic, so there are no situations where a player must leap from a high point in one realm in order to mount a platform in the other.

The split world does allow for some nonlinear exploration and alternate routes, with passages leading to score pickups, NPC’s in need of rescue, or the occasional 1UP, but narrative progress is generally made by moving to the right, passing between the light and dark worlds as needed to continue forward. That is not true of all areas, however, as one area sees the player moving in all directions to destroy multiple hearts in order to open a central door, and another area sees the player running through tunnels that are formed by the passing of gigantic worms.

The world is generally quite dark – even the overworld – with various shadow creatures appearing as the primary enemies, along with snakes, spiders, crows, and wolves. Shadow creatures can sometimes be difficult to make out against dark backgrounds.

Killed enemies remain dead for the duration of the level, so once a threat is removed it does not need to be faced again, which aids in exploration. Themed areas have some unique enemies, with the ice area featuring numerous yetis, underground areas featuring stone golems, and a bloody castle packed with loping zombies that are best defeated via immolation.

Each area also has its own hazards, such as lava and spikes, and jutting spikes are difficult to notice and can take the player by surprise. The frozen area is particularly difficult to navigate as snow drifts limit the player’s ability to jump, but these drifts are white, and the background is mostly white, sometimes making them difficult to see. Additionally, this game features the slipperiest ice ever seen in gaming… Once you get moving on a sheet of ice, it is impossible to slow down or change directions by running in the opposite direction; the only way to turn around is to jump, which isn’t always possible in areas with overhead obstacles.

There are numerous miniboss encounters, with a few repeating types in the form of gnarled dragons and monstrous skeleton heads. The end of each area features a boss encounter against some dark creature, including one battle that is fought in the Upside Down World. Bosses alternate attacks and add new attack types as their health wears down. Their movement patterns are generally simple, but they have lengthy invincibility periods, so the player must wait before he can deal additional damage.

Of note is a battle against a creature called Firhaz that is made of a mixture of fire and ice. This battle takes place in an arena with floating platforms around the outer edges and openings in the floor that lead to the underworld. The boss hovers around the room, even passing between the light and dark realms, so the player must stay on the move while delivering damage. The boss can also unleash a huge flurry of blue projectiles that freeze the room over, adding snow drifts and a slippery ice sheet along the floor, and it can spray orange projectiles to melt the ice and create patches of lava.

Defeating each boss unlocks a crystal that allows the Potion Master to mix new potions, after which, these potions may be cycled through on the fly. Each potion has different elemental effects and is thrown differently, opening up a wider array of attacks. The default potion is thrown in an arc, but the electrical potion can only be tossed directly in front of you, unleashing a large electrical blast upward, even passing through platforms, which makes it great for attacking enemies above you.

Defeating the fire and ice boss unlocks a potion with a similar effect, mixing the two elements. When the potion is tossed, it causes fire damage to anything it hits, but when it hits a wall, it bounces and turns to ice, which is weaker but it can freeze enemies in place. Each time the projectile bounces, it switches back and forth between fire and ice. This is a great weapon to use in tight corridors as the player can unleash a flurry of bouncing projectiles that can kill enemies around corners.

Finally, the player earns a blood potion that grants a spinning projectile but also alters the player’s movement abilities. Getting this potion allow the Potion Master to perform a short double jump by sprouting a set of wings momentarily. In addition, he gains the ability to perform a sliding kick and downward strike that let him burst forward and damage enemies directly. Once earned, these new movement abilities can be used regardless of which potion is equipped.

The game uses a limited color palette with mostly dark hues, and many levels play out within the confines of caves or dungeons. Shadow creatures are clawed, horned, and often covered in spikes. Between-level sequences borrow from Ghosts ‘n Goblins with a map showing the passage from one level to the next. The game offers multiple endings, a New Game+, and a boss rush mode.

A Hole New World was developed by Mad Gear Games, with development by Daniel Pellicer, Juan Jesus Ligero, and Miguel Murat. The game was originally created as part of Ludum Dare 30 in 2014, and was later expanded into a full game.