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• Mole Mania

developed & published by Nintendo / Feb. 1997
1-2 players / 2 save slots / Nintendo GameBoy, 3DS eShop (26.07.2012)

MoleMania-0

Mole Mania is a clever and addictive puzzle game that was originally created for the black and white GameBoy.  A wily farmer named Jinbe kidnaps Muddy Mole’s wife and seven children, so Muddy sets off to reclaim them through mazes filled with devious puzzle rooms.  Considering Mole Mania was designed by legendary Nintendo game creator Shigeru Miyamoto it’s a rather obscure title, but one that’s been given a second shot with its release as a downloadable game on the Nintendo 3DS eShop.

MoleMania-2

Similar to classic block-pushing puzzle games like Adventures of Lolo, each stage is broken up into individual screens (or rooms) that connect to one another through a door blocked with cement.  It’s your job to move an iron wrecking ball to smash open the path, which is tricky because each room is filled with obstacles including enemies.  Muddy Mole can manipulate the ball by pushing it, pulling it, rolling it forward, or tossing it back over his head.  The ball can be used to squash enemies that roam around, but disappears if it falls into a hole. If you accidentally run into an enemy, you’ll lose one quarter of your life, so you can only make four mistakes before having to restart a room.

In the more difficult stages, you’ll have to plan your moves carefully because one wrong decision can ruin everything.  Luckily you can easily reset a room to try again by choosing to do so from the menu screen, or by exiting and re-entering the room.  You can also find one item per stage that will allow you to skip a room if you find it’s too difficult, but I suggest you avoid using it to fully enjoy the game.

Digging underground

Being a mole, Muddy can dig holes and crawl underground – so each of the puzzle rooms actually have both above ground and underground parts.  You can avoid most enemies by diving into a hole, but you also have to be careful where you dig them because too many holes can cause trouble.  Muddy can also poke his head out from underground to survey the situation, which is useful to find your bearings or to check if it is safe to hop out.

MoleMania-1Above and below ground sections of a puzzle room

Growing complexity

New puzzle elements are introduced over the course of the game that add to its complexity. You’ll have to use barrels in some rooms to fill holes in the ground.  Some rooms contain weights that can be positioned to stop a rolling ball or barrel.  Other stages contain movable pipes that can redirect a rolling ball or barrel around a corner, and arrow tiles that push them in one direction.  And new enemies appear, too, like the annoying hedgehogs that burrow underground and pop out of holes in set patterns.  It’s all in good fun though, and with around 175 unique puzzle rooms to solve, there’s plenty of that to be had (as well as a dash of frustration).

There are 7 main stages in the game and an unlockable final level that consists of a rematch with all the bosses.  You’re free to tackle the stages in whatever order you choose, but they’re meant to be played in ascending order (as they get much longer and more difficult).  In order to get all 100 points for each stage you’ll have to find and collect the map (which shows you the stage layout), compass (which shows the location of the boss, bonus stage, and safe spots), complete the bonus stage, and bury 20 cabbages found throughout the level.

Bonus stages pit you in a one-on-one battle with Jinbe himself where your goal is to collect cabbages before your time runs out.  It’s harder than it sounds, as Jinbe will chase you around the room trying to hit you with his shovel, and each time he does so you’ll lose five seconds.

MoleMania-3Mole Mania played with a Super GameBoy accessory

Conclusion

All in all this is a really great little puzzle game with unique mechanics that is fantastic for playing on the go since it automatically saves your place after each completed room.  It starts off pretty easy, but there are some really dirty puzzles in the latter half of the game, and the mixture of moving above and underground truly plays a role in your success.  The bosses are also cleverly designed with a different strategy required to defeat each one.  You’ll probably get around 10 hours or so of enjoyment out of Mole Mania, and it’s readily available for download on the 3DS at a reasonable price.  Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a fan of this sort of game, I would highly recommend you give it a chance.

Quick Run Down

PROs:

  • 175 individual puzzle rooms
  • Unique above + below ground game mechanics
  • Easy to control, difficult to master
  • Automatically saves your place after each room
  • Features some Super GameBoy features when played that way

CONs:

  • Music can get repetitive
  • Simple graphics may be hard to stomach
  • No remake or sequel for the dual-screened DS or 3DS!

One Sentence Review: An addictive puzzle game with unique mechanics that is surprisingly fun.

One Word Review: Addictive!

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