Ball-bouncer games are one of my favorite genres for on-the-go gaming. When I heard about Holedown, a $3.99 mobile game that promised a lot of heart and a terrific ball-bouncing, block-destroying, precise-aiming experience, I was intrigued. I’ve only purchased a couple mobile games in the past – Gorogoa and Super Mario Run – but a polished game of this type sold me on the idea of purchasing my third mobile game. With so many free games like it available, I had to know if the polished graphics, upgrades, and planet delving made this worth the purchase.
Dig deep underground by shooting balls and breaking blocks, traversing your way to the planet cores. With limited shots per round and some blocks fixed firmly to the wall, thoughtfully strategize and aim for maximum impact. Knock down as many blocks as possible while collecting crystals for upgrades and getting deeper beneath the surface.
Holedown is a cute mobile game that puts some solid twists on the classic block-breaking, ball-shooting genre (seriously, there HAS to be a better name for them!). For those not familiar, these games typically lay out a screen with various blocks that have numbers on them. Your job is to break these blocks by hitting them with the slew of balls you’ve got. You aim where you want to fire and then let go, and each hit on a brick lowers the number on it by one; once it hits 0, the brick breaks. Each turn, the bricks move toward you, with a new row added behind them, and if they get to you the game is over. To make things even crazier, the new bricks typically have a number at least one higher than the number of balls you fire, so you need to rely on bouncing shots as much as possible each turn.
But Holedown is unlike many of the games I’ve played. Each level (aside from the black hole) has a definitive goal, and you have a limited number of shots to reach it. The challenge is not only to avoid crashing (by having a block come up to you) but also to clear the blocks as quickly as you can so you descend faster. This creates a unique balance where you’ll want to clear higher blocks as fast as you can, but also try to break lower ones so that you don’t get overwhelmed when you rush toward them.
Another major twist is that the blocks aren’t all independent of one another. If you take out a block, all of the blocks above it will be destroyed as well unless they have a screw in them. This blends bubble shooter mechanics in with a new genre, making a perfect shot against the bottom of the screen even more effective since a surgical strike on one or two blocks can clear the whole screen, rapidly boosting you deeper toward the core faster.
Finally, unlike every other game of this type I’ve played, the blocks aren’t all the same size. Some are regular squares, while others are all sorts of tetrominoes (Tetris shapes), and some are even more ridiculous. Typically, the bigger the block is, the higher the number on it will be. But bigger blocks are also easier to hit more than once in a shot, and because they all have rounded corners, it’s easier to make shots bounce like crazy.
As you clear levels, you’ll pick up crystals from some blocks, and these can be used to upgrade various stats. Unless you’re a ridiculously intelligent AI that can calculate every angle perfectly, you’ll need to increase all of these to progress through the game’s handful of levels. I’m a sucker for any game with upgrades, and there really is a terrific sense of progression. Going back to the first level after maxing everything out is almost hilarious, as even the worst shots can practically clear the screen.
However, I was really disappointed at how few levels there were in Holedown. Games of this sort usually have hundreds of levels, and I assumed there would be at least a couple dozen to get through here as well. Sadly, Holedown has only 6 (including the endless black hole), and the progression is wonky. Because there are so few levels, there’s a huge difficulty curve between them. If you’re upgraded enough to make it through the third level, for example, you’ll barely get anywhere at all in the fourth. You also don’t earn crystals any faster in harder stages, so it’s much easier to go back a level or two and grind there than it is to earn one or two crystals (if you’re lucky) in the most recently unlocked level.
Holedown reminds me of what I’d always heard about older online FPS games: sure there’s a campaign, but it’s basically there to get the player acquainted with the game before playing the “real game”. The difference is that, in Holedown, the “real game” is the black hole. The black hole is a limitless level where you dig deeper and deeper until you inevitably crash. Even after unlocking everything you’ll still collect crystals, but they don’t seem to have any purpose anymore. I’ve tried the mode several times after unlocking everything, but there’s not even a “revive for 50 crystals” option or “start 30 meters deeper for 20 crystals” or anything.
The lack of levels alone makes it hard to recommend Holedown when there are so many free games with hundreds of levels out there. It definitely has more polish than a lot of the free games, and they don’t have an adorable mole-like creature telling me to seize the means of production the way Holedown does. But unless the lack of ads is that important to you, or you want to support some indie devs who clearly put some heart (but not so much depth) into their game, it’s likely not worth dropping money on this one.