One of the best things about Nintendo's Virtual Console services is the possibility of discovering games that you never knew existed. In 1996/1997 Shigeru Miyamoto was over a decade into his career, and had some of the biggest games ever released under his belt, but he was still far from being a household name. This made it easy for Mole Mania, a fantastic Game Boy game that he designed, to fly well under the radar of even your most dedicated fans. Fortunately, last week saw the re-release of this forgotten gem via the 3DS' Virtual Console, finally giving it the exposure it deserves.
Mole Mania puts you in the role of Muddy Mole (not to be confused with Montey Mole) who has to save his wife and kids from the evil farmer Jinbe. Played out over a series of puzzle boards that make up eight different worlds, Muddy Mole has to navigate both above and below the ground to make it to the exit in each world. Each board consists of push-and-pull obstacles where Muddy has to get a ball from one side of the board to the other to break down the exit door while avoiding a variety of animal enemies set out to impede his progress. To round out each world, Jinbe has a series of his "animals" serving as bosses for each level, and they must be defeated using the same push-and-pull mechanics as the rest of the levels.
At first glance Mole Mania might appear to be just another Game Boy puzzle game, tasking players with clearing each room before they move on. However, after digging in a little further, it becomes abundantly clear that the dual level gameplay, mixed with the variety of creatures in each world, make every board a unique experience. When you trek through the later levels in the game, and you're trying to figure out how to move the ball across a screen full of holes which you need to plug with barrels, while avoiding enemies that are flying at you from all sides, you realize that there's something a little different about this game. In addition to the boss fights, each level also includes a bonus level that you can discover where you face off against Jinbe on-one-on to score some extra points.
One of the only downsides of Mole Mania is actually one of its biggest selling points – its difficulty. Whereas some players may find that the game puts players through their paces trying to figure out the intricacies of each board, the complexity of the later level may be a bit of a turn off for someone that's just looking for a mindless puzzle game (pretty sure that's an oxymoron).
This release is a great example of the mid-to-late lifecycle Game Boy games that really helped define mobile gaming. It's puzzles are short and to the point, the overall concept it easy enough to pick up and play, but complex enough to drive you mad as you progress through the game. Plus, there's a healthy amount of levels, meaning you should get your money's worth (especially at $2.99). Anyone that's ever played any of Miyamoto's games should spend the pocket change to check out one of his lesser-known releases to get a look at what, arguably, the greatest game designer ever was working on early in his career, while no one was looking.