We're going deeper underground!
You have to feel sorry for poor old moles, not only do they have to contend with appalling vision, but they also risk getting beaten over the head with a shovel by an irate farmer every time they pop their fuzzy little heads above ground. As if this weren't bad enough, poor old Muddy Mole, star of this cutesy puzzle game on Nintendo's Gameboy, has to deal with his entire family being kidnapped by the oddly named farmer, Jinbei. Quite what a grown man wants to do with a load of mole pups is beyond me (probably best not to dwell on the possibilities), but the spiteful old bastard now holds them hostage and it is up to you to rescue them.
Mole Mania is a top down puzzle game in which you take control of Muddy in his rescue mission. Each screen is a puzzle that simply requires you to reach the exit which, naturally, is easier said than done. The gimmick here, and the element that makes Mole Mania stand out, is the ability to dig underground, meaning each screen actually consists of two - ground level and underground. Burrowing underground allows you to move along and pop up through the soil, reaching areas that were blocked off above ground and this is the key to solving each puzzle. Enemies soon make an appearance, consisting of a variety of cute critters who, despite their cartoony visage, are out to do you harm. Avoiding them is key, either by using the aforementioned digging skill, or by squishing them using large bombs or cabbages. Both of these objects can be either pushed, causing them to roll until hitting the background, or by tossing them overheard in a suplex style manoeuvre that sends them rolling off behind you. The bombs are needed to break the wall that blocks most exits, so careful manipulation is required in order to get it to its target. Should a bomb fall down one of the many holes on the screen, not to mention additional ones created by your digging, then it is reset to its original position. The cabbages, on the other hand, grant extra heart pieces to fill up your health meter. Barrels are soon introduced, which plug up any holes that they fall into while you roll them, with the possible negative addition that they also create a blockage underground too.
The game is split into several worlds, each with a familiar theme such as ice, forest, or tropical island, with each one guarded by a boss who will require quick thinking and quicker reflexes to defeat. This is usually achieved by using bombs (if available), spiked objects that can be pushed under a leaping guardian, or by digging holes for them to get stuck in. They are challenging, but never unfair, and break up the puzzling action nicely. There is also a bonus stage, that is entered upon finding the secret warp spot, which pits you against farmer Jinbei who tries to bash you with his hammer as you attempt to dunk all the on-screen cabbages into holes. It's very tricky and I have yet to successfully finish ones of these screens, despite having finished the main game.
With wonderfully cute, cartoony graphics - including some adorable cutscenes - that really push the Gameboy's limited processing power, as well as insanely catchy chiptunes that will stay with you forever, Mole Mania's presentation is top notch. It is also incredibly enjoyable, engaging, and impossible to put down. Once you clear the first world and the screens start to get trickier, involving multiple holes, numerous meanies, blocked underground passages, and barrels needed to plug gaps, you will be completely hooked until the games conclusion. Both my girlfriend and I thoroughly enjoyed Mole Mania, taking turns to complete screens - and, believe me, some of the later screens will take a while to solve - until we finally beat the game and felt an amazing sense of achievement, coupled with relief that Muddy Mole was now reunited with his furry little family. Not only is Mole Mania one of the best games on the original Gameboy handheld, but it also benefits from improved coloured graphics when played on the Gameboy Colour or through the Super Gameboy adapter on Super Nintendo. Whichever way you choose to play it, though, you are in for a treat, just don't expect to be able to put it down (or get the catchy tunes out of your head) for some time.
Title : Mole Mania
Developer : Pax Softonica
System : Gameboy