Some games are just special when you pick them up. Maybe it’s an extra bit of polish, or it’s just better than you were expecting. Maybe it is an old concept that adds something new to the experience. No matter what, Mole Mania is one of those games.
I already wrote a short overview of the game during puzzles week, but of the many games lost in the Nintendo Wasteland, this is one that, just like Kid Icarus, deserves to make a comeback. So where the heck is it?
For those of you who can’t take a hint, in a nutshell Mole Mania is a Sokoban clone. If you don’t know what Sokoban is, you might have played one of its many variations such as Chip’s Challenge or Boxxle. You control a character that can push blocks around a screen. In its purest form you’re trying to get certain blocks onto certain spaces, but there have been many variations on the formula. Mole Mania‘s twist? Instead of just pushing you can pull and even throw certain blocks. Every area tasks you with taking a wrecking ball and using it to destroy a gate. To add a little bit of danger, some areas have enemies moving around. Also, being a mole, Muddy (the protagonist) can dig underground, giving every stage two layers to work the puzzles through, but be careful. Any hole you dig could impede your progress as the ball (or other sundry items) can fall into them, requiring you to start over. But it wasn’t the gameplay that made Mole Mania such a beloved title for me, it was the characters.
The game’s characters ooze charm. Whether it’s the protagonist, Muddy, Ma or one of his 8 children, the evil farmer Jinbe or one of his minions, every character in the game sells it. For a standalone game, Mole Mania looks like it was prepared to start a franchise thanks to the very memorable characters. Every minion has a thematically appropriate level. The snowman boss is in a snow level. The giant sun minion is in a sun-drenched beach level. The plumber minion is in a level full of pipes and undiggable concrete. Consistency is a major factor in what makes the game so great.
Yet being a great game doesn’t equal sequels. Not enough people bought Mole Mania when it released for Nintendo to even acknowledge it later. However, I submit that it’s time for Nintendo to lead Muddy out of the wasteland, and that the 3DS is the perfect system to do so with. Here’s why:
The dual screens are perfect for the two-plane gameplay. Half of the fun in the original was planning out exactly where and when you would have Muddy tunnel, but being able to see both planes at once would be a huge boon. Of course, this would keep you from using the peek button and seeing a humorous animation of Muddy bonking his head on an undiggable surface, but all in all the dual-screen nature of the 3DS would help improve the ease of planning out your moves.
3DS needs a killer puzzle game. Puzzle games offer the perfect level of pick-up-and-playability for a portable. As great as the Zelda series is, sometimes Link’s epic quests are more than you want for a quick session. Puzzle games segment action into a single screen that can be completed and set aside without the need to play for hours. Mole Mania already refined this sort of segmented gameplay into an art form, and an early release on 3DS, before puzzle games are a dime a dozen, would cement it as a must-buy.
Muddy would look good in 3D. The Game Boy game used vertical space a lot. Many of Jinbe’s minions would jump or jump off screen, and every time Muddy would dig into the ground he would leap up and then burrow under the ground. The graphical finesse could be expanded and used as a major part of the gameplay in a 3DS version. It seems like 3DS games need a hook. Mole Mania could use the 3D to great effect in both puzzles and boss fights.
The time is ripe for Muddy to dig once again on a Nintendo handheld. Even so, how likely is it that Nintendo will bring Mole Mania back? I would have to say, when being honest with myself, that it is very unlikely. For some reason which I’m not sure of, it appears that Mole Mania has almost completely disappeared from Nintendo’s radar, not even appearing in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which was chock-full of obscure references. But the fanboy will not die, and it begs Nintendo to create a new entry for one simple reason: I miss my Mole Mania.