Let’s Take A Look At is a series where I pick a retro game following my whimsy, and, well, take a look at it. I play through the first couple of hours of it, providing a breakdown of the games mechanics and presentation and whatnot through the medium of text and moving images. Of course, I’ll let you know if it’s worth a go, too.
Some of these I’ve played, some of them I haven’t. I’ll point out now that I have played this one before, so you’ll get an experience reflective to my time completing it back in 2014. I also fired the game up again to snag some footage and play through the first hour or so.
Ah, Mole Mania. You might never have heard of it, but it’s got a pretty big name attached to it. It’s a game directed by none other than Mario and Link’s dad, Shigeru Miyamoto. If you’ve never heard of it though, that’s acceptable – it’s often referred to as his ‘forgotten game’. A bit of an obscurity, then – has it been forgotten for a good reason, or is it still worth a bash? Let’s find out, as we usually do.
It begins with a typical Miyamoto plot. A lady mole and her children are having a bit of a lark outside, doing what moles do. Cue the naughty music, because evil farmer bastard Jinbe quickly arrives on the scene. Hitting Mummy Mole on the head with a hammer, he stuffs the mole family in his burlap sack, and spirits them away to his evil lair.
Unfortunately, the game’s protagonist, husband and father Muddy Mole, turns up a few seconds too late.
I have to ask – what’s Jinbe’s motivation here? What does he want Muddy Mole’s family for? Clearly, the two have met before – just look at the note that he left behind.
It reeks of personal malice. Does Jinbe just have an issue with moles? Is it because Muddy Mole is always digging up his cabbage patch, or whatever? It seems to me like Muddy Mole and his family live in the forest, so I think that we can safely cross that one out. Does Jinbe love Muddy Mole’s wife, then? Is this a twisted love triangle where a human wants to fuck a mole?
Sorry. It’s a computer game. I should stop overthinking.
Anyway. It goes without saying – Muddy Mole obviously decides to get his arse over to Jinbe Land. Conveniently, Jinbe Land and Jinbe himself happen to be – oh, about eight puzzle-filled worlds away. That’s right, puzzles – you won’t find a lick of platforming here.
Instead, it’s presented in a manner similar to a Zelda game. The screen transitions are the same as those on Link’s Awakening, too, really giving you that Zelda jibe. Hell, you can even find the map and compass equivalent to help you find your way through the levels.
Speaking of the levels, these are split into about thirty-two screens, each of them containing a little mini puzzle for Muddy Mole to solve. These usually involve hefting blocks around, which you can move around in a variety of ways. Observe.
This is where the majority of the puzzle-solving lies – repositioning various kinds of blocks so that you can make your way over to the exit of the screen successfully. It’s good fun – a bit like a pocket version of Clu-Clu Land. Except there’s an extra layer of depth. Literally.
Since Muddy Mole is, well, a mole, he can dig into soft ground. See those areas where there’s rocks? He can’t burrow into those, but most other tiles are fair game. Underground, Muddy can get around obstacles that he normally couldn’t. As you can see on the left, rather than arsing around with all of those wrecking balls, I simply dug underneath them, skipping a good chunk of block-busting action.
Digging can have it’s disadvantages, though, and generally, you have to be careful about where you pop back up. Popping back overground creates a hole, if there wasn’t one already – and a precious block that you might need to get to the exit to clear the screen can easily have it’s progress blocked by a bit of shoddy digging, since they disappear when they fall inside.
Make too many holes in the wrong place (and sometimes, one is enough) and you’ll effectively render the screen impossible to complete. Don’t worry, though – leaving the screen and coming back to it will completely undo any daft mistakes you may have made. Unfortunately, it’ll also bring back the enemies.
A brief word about those – they’re not anything incredibly special, but I don’t think that the intention is to make them enemies that are difficult to conquer – rather, they’re just additional obstacles, or part of the puzzle itself. Still, getting hit by them will reduce your heart meter by a quarter – four hits, then, and you’re permanently buried in the ground.
There’s also bonus stages tucked within each and every level. These pit you against Farmer Jinbe, who’s fervently protecting a field of cabbages. You have to dump each cabbage in a hole. The brutal shit has a hoe, though, and he isn’t afraid about bonking you on the head with it. Maybe Jinbe’s motivation does lie in patch ruination.
If this all sounds like it might be a bit much, don’t worry. The game has plenty of sign posts dotted around, which are both informative and cute. Left behind by Uncle Hint, they’ll often provide explanation, or a hint if you just so happen to be stuck.
These hint signs are packed with classic Nintendo charm, and I personally read all of them for the sake of it, even when the solution to the puzzle was obvious. I didn’t want to miss a single word. And that says something in a game that’s about a mole.
At the end of each world, you’ll have to face a boss, too. Being honest with you, these can range from good to gash, though for the most part, they’re fairly serviceable. There’s a boss or two where you feel like an opportunity has been missed to make things a bit more challenging, or that could’ve done with a mechanic removing in order to make them a touch more manageable.
Then again, I feel the same about the bosses in Link to the Past, so your mileage may vary.
Another thing that’s a bit arse when it comes to the games difficulty is that if you die and return to the beginning of a screen, you’ll be stuck with however much health you had when you entered the screen last time. Meaning that if you’re on a quarter heart when you die, you’ll be on a quarter heart when you respawn. Since there’s no real way to farm health restoratives, you’re a touch screwed if you want any leniency.
That side, the difficulty and the creativity lie in what matter most, really – the puzzles. Despite being single screen affairs with limited mechanics, Miyamoto and his team really pushed what they had to make it as expansive as possible. There’s a variety of blocks in play that do different things when tossed. I won’t go into great detail and spoil you, but I’ll just say that there’s a fair few surprises across the campaign that’ll keep your brainbox on it’s toes.
Something that I’d like to point out that is nice – you don’t have to complete the worlds in linear order. After you’ve beaten the first one and gotten to grips with the games mechanics, you can do the rest of the worlds in whatever order you please, unlocking World 8 when you’ve finally beaten them all. The game will save your progress in that world when you leave it, too, meaning that if you get stuck on a puzzle in World 3, you can go ahead and do World 6 while you have a good think about it.
Some of the screens in game are even entirely optional, and only there so that you can see and solve absolutely everything and get that coveted 100% completion stat.
For me, the game did outstay it’s welcome about an hour or two longer than it should. Still, with a game that manages to be as charming as this one, it’s hard to boot it out of your respective device. The music, graphics, and writing are all plenty charming. And that’s without mentioning the fun, thoughtful gameplay.
If you fancy picking this one up, you won’t have to dig around on eBay, providing that you have a 3DS – it’s available on the Virtual Shop for a few quid. Is it worth your time and money? Absolutely. Block-shoving puzzles are a bit trite, especially in modern gaming. But these have managed to hold up fairly well, if only because of the additional layers that the game introduces along the way. It starts simple, but you’ll be scratching your head in no time – and I just love me a good head scratcher.
Mole Mania, in my opinion, should go down in the annals with Mario, Link, and the rest of Miyamoto’s lot. It’s sad that it’s forgotten, and I think that it should be remembered. So the next time you see a molehill – think of Mole Mania for me. Go on. For me.
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