Martin Jonasson is the developer behind some of the most acclaimed mobile games around: twofold, inc. and rymdkapsel. But his latest project, Holedown (available on the App Store and Google Play for $3.99), ditches the complicated puzzle and strategy aspects for a more approachable arcade experience that’s nearly impossible to put down.
Gameplay in Holedown is similar to last year’s free-to-play chartopper Ballz (created by the controversial Ketchapp Games, who created the viral hit 2048). Players are tasked with burrowing down as far as they can into the core of a planet. This is accomplished by sending a stream of bouncing balls into numerically labeled blocks, which represent the number of times that a block needs to be hit before it breaks. The game starts out simple, tasking players with just a couple of shots and small, easy-to-shatter bricks. But as you unlock more upgrades and abilities, things escalate to the point where you’ll have dozens of balls ricocheting around a level, sticking blocks hundreds of times in a single shot.
It’s a pleasant inverse of an unfortunate trend in mobile games. Instead of developers taking an idea and building a stripped down, ad-filled clone, Holedown takes the “Brick Breaker but more” concept of Ballz and bundles it into a more polished and deeper experience. (And as an added bonus for anyone looking to play during their commute, the entire game is playable offline, too.)
But Holedown isn’t about blindly brute-forcing your way through the levels. Destroying a lower down block with other bricks stacked on top will destroy the whole tower, adding a nearly requisite tactical element, especially in the more difficult levels. Furthering the challenge is the fact that some blocks are pinned in place, and can only be dismantled by hitting them the appropriate number of times.
There’s a blend of luck and skill here that reminds me of PopCap’s Peggle, another addictive time-eater that I once poured hours of my life into. Can you succeed simply by smashing your way downward? Probably, at least for the earlier levels. And even the most well thought out and intentioned shots have a tendency to go awry, with balls bouncing around in wholly unexpected ways. But over the course of the five or so hours it took me to play through the standard levels — imagined or not — I really could feel myself getting better at placing shots and predicting angles.
I’m not sure how much time I’ll spend in Holedown now that I’ve completed the game. The levels are all procedurally generated, and there’s an endless stage at the end that challenges players to see just how far they can go for those who want more. Once I had unlocked everything there was to offer, there wasn’t much drive for me to keep going.
But while it lasts, there’s something deeply satisfying about watching the chaos as balls careen around the screen and make the larger numbers steadily tick down to nothing. Holedown is charming and engrossing, and definitely worth the trip.