Mole Mania Review

Shigeru Miyamoto is the world’s most prolific video game designer. It’s not hard to see why, since he has served as creator and/or producer of many of the world’s most popular games: Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, Star Fox, Mole Mania…

Wait, what was that last one?

Yes, even Shigeru Miyamoto has made a few games that have gone under the radar, perhaps none more so than Mole Mania. That’s a crying shame, because this 1997 puzzler remains one of the Game Boy’s best titles.

In many ways, Mole Mania works like a simplified Legend of Zelda. If you were to remove Zelda’s overworld, and just stick with the dungeons, doubling down on their puzzle elements, you have a pretty good idea at what Mole Mania is.

Player’s take control of Muddy Mole, who is out to rescue his family after they’ve been kidnapped by a wicked farmer named Jimbe, who’s angry at the moles for eating his cabbages. Each of Muddy’s seven children are being held hostage by Jinbe’s henchmen (the game’s bosses), while Jimbe himself is holding Muddy’s wife.

The game is spread out between eight worlds, though after the first world is completed, levels 2 through 7 can be completed in any order the player chooses (they can even leave a stage for a while and work on another, if they get too stumped). This allows players to go through most of the game at their own pace, which seemed like an idea ahead of Mole Mania’s time.

Each level is comprised of multiple rooms which, like Zelda’s dungeons, need to have their puzzles solved in order to move on. The goal is to get an iron ball to break the wall blocking the exit of each room. Muddy can push and pull the giant marble, as well as throw it forward and back. This may sound simple enough, but Mole Mania finds various ways to turn this simple setup into a complex series of puzzles.

The biggest twist is that Muddy Mole has to navigate each room both above and under ground. Muddy can dig his own holes in the ground, and most rooms also contain holes of their own. Things get tricky though, because if the marble falls into a hole, it goes back to its starting position. You can’t fill in holes, but exiting a room and going back restores it to its default state. Additionally, 20 cabbages can be found on each stage, which must be thrown (or pushed, or pulled) into a hole to be collected, adding a little extra challenge for completionists.

The ways in which Mole Mania continues to change up its simple setup throughout the game is as impressive as it is fun, seemingly never running out of ideas with its concept. There are pipes that the iron marble can travel through to change paths, enemies that may stop the ball in its tracks, blocks that Muddy can push but are too heavy to pull. Mole Mania is always changing up its formula, making for a consistently fun experience.

This creativity even extends to the boss fights, albeit not to the same degree. The boss fights are all pretty simple, but find creative twists on the gameplay as Muddy finds new ways to smack them with the iron marble, or use the environment to their disadvantage.

There are a few technical issues with the game, due to the limitations of the Game Boy. Namely, having to hold the same button to throw a marble as you do to pull it can get a bit cumbersome in later stages (if you hold still for even a second when gripping the marble, Muddy prepares to throw it). You may find yourself doing one action when trying to do the other, since both of the actions are mapped to the same button.

Some players may also find the fluctuating difficulty somewhat off-putting. Although the first few stages do a good job at becoming progressively more difficult, some of the later stages seem to crank the challenge up and down on a whim, with some of them going from a notably easy room directly into an exceptionally hard one.

These aren’t major complaints, mind you. On the whole, Mole Mania remains a delightful game, one whose puzzles can be genuinely head-scratching at times. And on top of the engaging gameplay, Mole Mania features fun musical tracks that – as is expected of a Nintendo score – end up being wildly infectious. Although Mole Mania never received a Game Boy Color update like many other Game Boy titles, the sprites are detailed enough that it still holds up decently well from a visual standpoint.

Who knows why Mole Mania didn’t join the pantheon of beloved Miyamoto franchises. Maybe it had to do with the timing of its release (after the Game Boy’s initial boom but before Pokemon gave the handheld a second life)? Maybe gamers weren’t enamored with the simple prospect of a Mole fighting a farmer when compared to Miyamoto’s usual fantasy fare? Whatever the case, Mole Mania deserved better. It boasts the same ‘pure gaming’ pleasures as Miyamoto’s more well-known titles, and had all the makings of another Nintendo mainstay. Even if it didn’t become a long-standing Nintendo franchise, Mole Mania remains an enduring cult classic, and one of the few titles to come out of the original Game Boy that holds up incredibly well today.

Now, how about Muddy Mole for Super Smash Bros?

 

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Ranking the 3D Mario Games

Super Mario 64

When Mario made the jump to 3D gaming in 1996 with Super Mario 64, in marked a turning point for both the Super Mario series and gaming as a whole. Super Mario 64 opened new doors and paved new ground for the world of video games. With such a heavy influence on gaming, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the Mario series itself was particularly effected by its influence.

Mario would abandon his 2D sidescrolling roots for a good ten years before New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS made it a thing again. While New Super Mario Bros. launched its own sub-series that has kept 2D Mario games largely successful, most Mario fans these days consider the 3D entries to be the “core” titles in the franchise, and with good reason. New Super Mario Bros. is fun and all, but it relies too heavily on Mario’s past and relishing in nostalgia. It’s the 3D games that feel like the series’ evolution and future.

Five console games and one handheld title comprise the 3D Mario canon. While we all eagerly await what might be the next great 3D Mario adventure – whether it be a Wii U title or a key release on Nintendo’s upcoming “NX” console – let’s look back at the 3D Mario games that have been released so far.

As part of my celebration of Super Mario Bros’ 30th anniversary, here is my ranking of the 3D Mario games, from least to greatest.

Continue reading “Ranking the 3D Mario Games”

Top 10 Bowser Battles

Bowser

There is no foe in all of gaming as persistent as Bowser. Since his debut in 1985, the King Koopa has dedicated his life to defeating Mario, kidnapping Princess Peach, and causing all around mayhem in the Mushroom Kingdom.

Though Mario has bested him countless times over the past 30 years, Bowser just keeps bouncing back. But with so many memorable encounters against the King Koopa, which ones stand out as the best? The following is my list of the top 10 battles against Bowser from the Mario series. Keep in mind that I’m just sticking with the Bowser fights from the primary platformers in the series. So even though that final battle in Paper Mario was pretty awesome, it won’t be here.

Also note that this isn’t a list of “hardest” Bowser battles. Too often these days do gamers simply think a difficult boss automatically equates to good and an easy boss is automatically bad. This list is based on how creative the boss fights were, the tension they create, and how definitive they are for their respective games. Difficulty is a secondary thing here.

So without further ado, the top 10 Bowser battles! Continue reading “Top 10 Bowser Battles”

Super Mario World Review

Super Mario World

The dawn of the 1990s saw some major shifts in the gaming world. The popularity of the NES was winding down, and Sega had an early jump into the 16-bit generation. With Sega’s head start into this new era of gaming – complete with a certain blue hedgehog who threatened Mario’s crown – Nintendo needed a killer launch title if its own 16-bit console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, was ever to compete with Sega. Super Mario World was that killer launch title, and so much more.

If Super Mario Bros. 3 perfected the formula laid down by the original Super Mario Bros., then Super Mario World may have transcended it. Everything that Shigeru Miyamoto and his teams at Nintendo had learned in developing the NES Mario trilogy culminated in Mario’s SNES debut. It wasn’t merely a graphical overhaul for the series (though it was that too), but a game that took the series’ blueprints and was ready and willing to rewrite them in the most playful ways imaginable at every turn.

Mario seemingly learned a thing or two from Nintendo’s own Metroid by this point, as Super Mario World placed a much greater emphasis on exploration than the series’ previous titles. Super Mario Bros. 3’s world map concept was greatly expanded on by two simple yet profound innovations: Replayable levels, and secret, alternate goals within the game’s stages.

Super Mario WorldNo longer was Mario’s mission to simply make it to the end of the stages by heading right. Now Mario was frequently heading upward, downward, and even inward to find secret exits that would create new pathways on the world map. Simply completing a stage was only half the battle. Mario’s ultimate goal was to scourge every last level for alternate paths to discover all the secrets of Dinosaur Land, which served as a replacement to the Mushroom Kingdom for the game’s setting. Super Mario World’s playful insistence on secrets went to such lengths that it hid a secret world within a secret world.

It’s the way Mario uncovers Dinosaur Land’s hidden levels that truly showcase Super Mario World’s sheer inventiveness. Finding many of the game’s secret exits often requires Mario to break the very rules he himself established in his NES adventures. And the levels themselves, though not as difficult as those of Mario 3, are somehow greater than their predecessors. The sheer creativity presented in each level showcases Nintendo at their best. Rarely has a game been so consistently imaginative with its every last concept before or since.

Super Mario WorldSome lament the fact that Mario’s list of power-ups was lessened from his Super Mario Bros. 3 arsenal, with only the power-ups from the original Super Mario Bros. (Mushroom, Fire Flower, Starman) returning along with one major new power-up. But this new power-up was the Super Feather, which granted Mario with a magic cape that worked like a super powered version of the Tanooki Suit of Mario 3. The Super Cape granted Mario with the ability to take to the clouds, but it controlled more smoothly than his raccoon tail, and with enough skill Mario could fly indefinitely. He could perform an earth-shaking dive bomb attack that defeated every onscreen enemy, as well as a spin attack to take out stronger bad guys. The simple fact is Mario didn’t need any more power-ups, the Super Cape alone made Mario feel – most appropriately – super.

But Super Mario World somehow outdid even its best new power-up with an even greater addition to the series: Yoshi.

Yoshi was Mario’s new dinosaur pal. Mario would hop on his back, and Yoshi could gobble up enemies, walk on dangerous surfaces that Mario could not, and gained special powers based on the color of Koopa shell he held in his mouth (red shells allowed him to spit fire, blue shells gave him wings, and rare yellow shells gave him a stomp attack). Additionally, secret red, blue, and yellow Yoshis could be found, and gained the shell power that reflected their own color no matter the type of shell they ate, while also gaining the individual benefits as well (meaning a blue Yoshi could fly and spit fire with a red shell, and so on).

Yoshi not only changed up the gameplay, but he went on to become one of Nintendo’s most popular characters, even rivaling Mario himself. Aside from Yoshi’s starring role in Mario World’s own prequel, Yoshi has arguably never been better utilized than in his debut outing here (though Super Mario Galaxy 2 might challenge that statement).

“Thanks to the upgrade in graphics and hardware, Mario could now climb fences and fight enemies from both sides.”

It goes without saying that Super Mario World’s visuals were improved over its predecessors. The new 16-bit technology allowed for more colors and effects, which Mario World used to such success that it remains one of the most visually timeless games ever made. It’s as colorful and vivid today as it ever was.

Complimenting the visuals is one of the best soundtracks in the illustrious series. With the possible exceptions of Super Mario RPG and the Galaxy duo, World’s soundtrack sits near the very top of the mountain of memorable Mario soundtracks for its energy and personality, not to mention its catchiness.

Though a technical improvement over its predecessors, what truly makes Super Mario World one of Nintendo’s finest achievements is that aforementioned creativity. There’s simply never a dull moment. Super Mario World is always introducing a new idea, or a twist on an old one, to keep things fresh.

Super Mario WorldYes, Bowser has still kidnapped the princess. But whereas the minimal plot is a retread of the previous Mario adventures, the journey itself is anything but: Ghost Houses, more unique boss encounters (including some non-Koopa bosses with Reznor and the Big Boo), the save feature, the secret exits, the branching paths, the secret worlds, the Super Cape and, of course, Yoshi. Super Mario World is both a refinement and a subtle but powerful reinvention of everything Mario learned up to that point. It remains not only one of the best Mario games ever, but one of the greatest video games. Period.

It’s Super Mario World. We’re just playing in it.

 

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