Nowadays most of my gaming is done on my phone. Usually it’s a simple, abstract puzzle game. My go to games are Drop 7, Hungry Cat Picross, and especially One More Brick. There’s a strong chance I’ve played One More Brick more than any other game in my entire life. This includes the notable time sinks World of Warcraft and League of Legends. It combines simple gameplay with progression systems and doesn’t eat up too much of my attention. It’s the perfect game to play while listening to a podcast or a half-watching a video. Recently a tweet brought a new ball bouncing, brick breaking game to my attention. This one promised deeper gameplay than One More Brick. So of course, I had to check it out. My thoughts ahead.
Holedown is a brick-breaking game. To play you drag your finger across the screen to aim the balls, then release to fire them. Each time a ball collides with a brick, the number on the brick counts down by one. When a brick’s value is lowered to 0 it is destroyed. Each shot completes when all balls hit the top of the screen again, after which the bricks move up the screen a little bit. If a brick reaches the top of the screen, you lose.
This basic description leaves it similar to other brick-breakers, but Holedown adds only a couple additional layers that add a lot of complexity to its gameplay. First the bricks are not uniform squares. There are tall bricks, short bricks, square bricks, and L-shaped bricks. These can appear in all sorts of vertical/horizontal orientations. This creates more opportunities for the balls to get caught in nooks and crannies, creating cluster bounces that let low numbers of balls destroy high value bricks.
The other big change is gravity. Some bricks are “nailed” to the wall and must be destroyed with balls. Others are “loose”, sitting on top of other bricks. When a brick below a “loose” brick is destroyed, the loose brick falls and is also destroyed. A series of bricks may seem impossible to destroy by value alone, but with clever bank shots, you can pull of some miracles.
As balls bounce against bricks they also fill a meter in the top right. When full, this meter rewards you with an additional ball. This system gives you a consistent power increase within a round.
While smashing bricks you also be collect crystals. More so than beating levels, collecting crystals is the primary goal in the early stages. Crystals are spent in between levels to purchase upgrades and unlock new levels. Completing a level and destroying its core comes with a huge payout of crystals. Upgrades take many forms, including giving you more balls at the start of a round, increasing your maximum amount of balls you can gain during a round, or the max amount of crystals you can obtain in a round. As you get better at the game it becomes easy to hit those maximums. Upgrades can feel less like an improvement and more like the removal of a limitation. None do anything to change the way the game plays, they just let you do more of what you were already doing. I think this may have been done to prevent more skilled players from bulldozing through the early stages. For this reason, I feel that the real game begins once you’ve unlocked every upgrade and start playing the unlimited mode.
The early stages act like training. Progression is mostly tied to the number of upgrades you’ve acquired. If you hit a wall in difficulty, grinding for new upgrades can help you move forward. But after you’ve acquire all the upgrades you must rely totally on your aiming skills. Banking a shot around the highest bricks to surgically remove a lower block that causes a cascade of brick destruction is one of the best feelings this game provides. On the other hand, sometimes clearing the board isn’t always your best option. You could consider leaving bricks up and using them to increase your ball count. These decisions come to a head in unlimited mode. The difficulty can be brutal. Early mistakes can cause a loss in the first couple of shots. Skilled players have reached depths of over 1100 meters. Compare that with my current best score of just under 800m, placing me somewhere in the top 90.
Mobile games provide a very tactile experience. The entire device is held in your hand, close to your body, and operated with your fingertips. This intimacy between player and device requires mobile games to be more intuitive. Holedown is a master-class in capturing a compelling game feel on the mobile platform. Its base is built on an existing genre, but it smooths out the rough edges to create a more pleasant experience.
After playing Holedown, try out one of its predecessors like One More Brick or Ballz. Compare how each game takes the same basic gameplay, but how the minor changes to user interface, sound design, and mechanics give Holedown a much more pleasant and tactile “feel”. That said those older games still have very fun base mechanics. Lining up a shot and letting only requires attention in short bursts, making this style of gameplay ideal for mobile.
Last, I want to talk about its pricing. Holedown costs 3.99, and I feel that it’s more than worth that. I’ve gotten more enjoyment and playtime out of this game than many other games I’ve dropped $60 on. A lot of mobile games rely on irritating in game advertising, or predatory micro-transactions to fund their development. This is a quality game with a fair price and purchasing this game will encourage more developers to follow its example.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve played this game, and what you think of it.