Muddy Mole is a name that doesn’t come up in many gaming conversations. Sure, everyone knows Monty Mole from the Super Mario games, but my personal favourite mole was buried under the popularity of Link’s Awakening, Metroid II: Return of Samus, and the Super Mario Land games. To my delight, Muddy Mole has recently emerged from his hole on the Nintendo eShop’s Virtual Console service in one of the Game Boy’s most underappreciated gems, Mole Mania.
Mole Mania is a unique puzzle game with a hint of action-adventure that stars none other than our previously mentioned hero, Muddy Mole. Gamers take on the role of Muddy Mole, an adorable, cabbage loving mole that sets out to rescue his family from the hands of evil farmer, Jinbe. To do this, Muddy must navigate puzzling layouts one room at a time by using his ability to push around heavy objects, and of course, going underground.
There are eight levels in Mole Mania, each consisting of a number of rooms containing puzzles. Rooms must be cleared one at a time while a boss waits for you in the final room. The goal for clearing each room is to push (or throw) a giant ball into the door blocking the next room. While this may sound simplistic, each room also contains a number of obstacles that will hinder Muddy’s progress. Some of these obstacles include enemies, spikes that can’t be walked on, holes, and blockers. Mole Mania starts off easy, but solving rooms proves to be quite challenging as you progress through the game; surprisingly, most levels take about an hour to complete and maybe longer if you get stuck.
Using Muddy’s ability to dig underground will become a huge part of your repertoire. Muddy can only dig in soft ground, something that will no doubt cause some head scratching at times. Digging in the ground will also leave holes behind, and unnecessary holes can be troublesome. Balls will fall in holes and return to their spawn point, barrels will fill in said holes – which can also block your path underground – and other objects just can’t cross over the holes. Figuring out how to use each object and in which manner is what you’ll be doing throughout the majority of Mole Mania; the puzzles themselves are really clever and being able to dig underground makes navigating them a lot of fun.
Muddy is easily controlled with the D-Pad and handles like most top-down characters, think of Link from The Legend of Zelda, he digs with A, and the B button allows you to grab objects. Grabbing and maneuvering objects play a huge role in Mole Mania, especially when you need to cross holes. When you grab an object you can push it forward, or throw it behind you by pressing the opposite direction on the D-Pad. This tactic is extremely useful when you need Muddy to throw balls across holes. Another useful tactic is the technique that lets Muddy peek above ground when he is underground, this can help you avoid encounters with enemies, or to peacefully plan your assault without fear of danger.
Mole Mania is one of the greatest Game Boy games to ever grace the monochromatic handheld.
Mole Mania also has some interesting puzzle-like boss battles. These battles occur in a single room, much like the rest of the game, but players will have to cleverly lead bosses into danger, or even think outside the box to best these critters. Even after defeating bosses and clearing each level, there is still more to Mole Mania.
Each level in Mole Mania can be perfect by obtaining a 100% score. This score is calculated by given values for completing certain tasks in each level. Discovering each room will give you points; whereas completing bonus levels will give you even more points. Players must also make sure they dunk all 20 cabbages scattered about each level into a hole. Getting 100% on each level means that players can unlock and tackle the final level, where a showdown with Jinbe awaits.
There is also an interesting two-player mode in Mole Mania, but I have no way of playing it for evaluation. Luckily, with a little research, I was able to discover that this two-player mode plays a lot like the game’s bonus levels. One player controls Muddy and tries to steal cabbages while the other controls Jinbe who must stop Muddy at all costs. There is a second round in the two-player mode that sees players switching roles; the winner is the person that steals the most cabbages. This is an interesting multiplayer effort that has probably been played less than the game itself.
Aside from its clever gameplay, Mole Mania also impresses with detailed, cartoon-like sprites that could rival any Game Boy game, not to mention a catchy soundtrack that could arguably be amongst the top 10 Game Boy soundtracks.
5/5 D-Pads: Mole Mania’s release in 1996 – a time when everyone started to get excited about the future of gaming – may have hampered its notoriety, but that now makes it one of the Game Boy’s best hidden gems. There isn’t really anything negative I could say about Mole Mania because I believe it achieved everything it set out to do. Some may be put off by its surprising difficulty and lengthy levels, but others will enjoy diving into its puzzling atmosphere. In my opinion, Mole Mania is one of the greatest Game Boy games to ever grace the monochromatic handheld.