You know how some action adventure games have puzzle rooms where you have to do stuff in sequence, and if you make one mistake you gotta exit, then re-enter the room in order to reset the puzzle? Mole Mania — one of the many classic nuggets hidden away on the 3DS eShop, is basically a whole game made of such puzzles.
One of the later original Game Boy games, Mole Mania is one of those unknown classics of the system as well as one of Shigeru Miyamoto’s forgotten accomplishments in game design. It’s also a shockingly difficult game.
When I say “difficult,” I really mean in the cerebral sense. The controls and mechanics are as simple as you’d expect from a first party Game Boy game — you move objects and dig holes to get to the exit of each room, but each room requires a surprising amount of thought and planning in order to solve its puzzle.
Similar to the Game Boy Donkey Kong, Mole Mania manages to take a few simple mechanics and craft them into excellent level design. The central mechanic — digging, is one of those unique features that makes you feel really powerful when you first use it, but the game quickly finds ways to challenge you with it, which I always find impressive. It wasn’t too long though before I learned you have to put some thought into where you dig, making sure to not make an exit unreachable.
What surprises me even more is that each new level in the game seems to introduce some new mechanic or tool that successfully makes the game more interesting in simple yet unexpected ways. When I found barrels — which cover up holes (allowing you to roll wrecking balls over them), I thought that was a great new tool. Then I found that they also block the tunnels you’ve made underground. Things like that just show how much thought Nintendo put into the game.
The thing is though, I find Mole Mania to also be a mentally exhausting game. The game clock shows me that it only takes me maybe 30 minutes to finish a single level but it feels a lot longer than that because of how deceptively complex the puzzles are. I’ve actually only made it to level 4 (of 8) as of this writing, and I’m still kind of shocked at how much farther I have to go. Back in the day I guess they just wanted you to play the Game Boy version in short bursts.
It’s baffling however how this game never got a sequel or follow-up of any kind. The main character doesn’t even cameo in another Nintendo game as far as I know, not even in Super Smash Bros. as a background guest or something. Mole Mania’s underground/above-ground mechanic would even be perfect for dual screen systems like the 3DS and Wii U. Maybe the game wasn’t successful enough for any full retail releases, but Nintendo could at least make a new eShop game or something.
- GameStop is having some kind of Spring PC download sale: http://www.gamestop.com/collection/gamestop-sale
- The EA version of the Dark Souls II box art: http://shar.es/JoRG1