So often these days, games seem to be doing no more than simply recycling old tried-and-true methods in an attempt to cash in without having to be original. At first glace, Mole Control might seem like yet another one of these games. But spend just five minutes with this new Remode title and it’s easy to see that it does more than imitate a classic game; it reinvents it! The folks at Remode have taken Minesweeper—the bomb-clearing game that comes with every Windows-based PC—and given it a complete overhaul.
Mole Control takes place in a quaint little town called Molar Creek, which is being overrun by explosive moles under the control of a mysterious silhouetted figure. In their time of need, the distraught townspeople seek the help of local inventor, Dr. Kraft, who is somewhat of a cross between Wallace from Wallace & Gromit and Doc from Fraggle Rock. Dr. Kraft, in turn, seeks your help in taking control of his new invention: a buggy vehicle used for detecting and capturing moles. This contraption is basically a lawnmower, helicopter, drill, vacuum, and cannon all rolled up into one mole-fighting machine, and with it, it is your job to clean up Molar Creek, retrieve stolen items, and unmask whoever is behind this mole mayhem.
The story is told through a series of painful rhymes and a number of typos, but it is a decent story. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense—exploding moles?—but neither do a lot of favored games. It’s entertaining and it pushes the game along, so as far as I’m concerned, it works just fine. Besides, those moles are just so gosh-darn cute. Our androgynous protagonist, on the other hand, is rather bland and uninteresting. The only clue to her gender is a brief mention of the word “she” in the intro. I appreciate that we are given a female character who doesn’t fit all of the obnoxious stereotypes, but they could have at least given her a name or made her remotely relatable.
Unlike our protagonist, the game’s music is lively and upbeat. I’ve clocked in several hours—in an early test demo and the retail version—and I have yet to tire of the soundtrack. It could stand to be somewhat more diverse, but it is up there with Plants vs. Zombies in terms of best music for a casual game. The visuals are equally pleasing, using a cartoon-like style that is bright and vibrant but not too childish. This is definitely the best direction they could have taken the game visually and it pays off.
Playing Mole Control is somewhat like learning how to ride a bike. It holds on to the back of your seat for the first few rounds to let you get acquainted with everything. Then, once it feels that you are ready, it shoves you off and leaves you to fend for yourself. This works quite well because getting a feel for the game doesn’t take long at all. Controlling the buggy is simple: each level is basically a grid and you can move one space in any of eight directions, obstacles permitting. Left-clicking moves you and right-clicking activates the drill arm. Of course, the game has more to it than just that.
The logic used in solving each level is basically the same as Minesweeper, but the method of playing is drastically different. Using the buggy as a lawnmower, you clear out paths by riding over patches of grass that are mole-free, which will be indicated by the number displayed on your buggy. This number represents the number of moles buried in the squares directly adjacent to your location (a holographic image of the number will also be planted in the ground). If your buggy displays a zero, then you know it’s safe to move in any direction. Any number higher than that, however, will require you to use logic and the process of elimination to find the moles and traverse the terrain safely. Either digging in the wrong spot or driving over a mole will cause damage to the buggy.
To help out on your adventures, there are a number of special color-coded moles that you can catch and use to your advantage. Some will clear out any moles within a specific blast radius while the “pheromole” can be used to lure moles out of their holes, temporarily exposing their locations. In all, there are five of these special moles to help you explode, expose, and shuffle the underground critters. Also, be on the lookout for elusive golden mole who has stolen an item in each area. If you manage to sneak up on him and catch him, it will unlock an extra portion of the story in which a citizen will describe their encounter with the mysterious fiend who has turned the moles against Molar Creek.
After playing through enough of the story, you will unlock the Time Attack mode, which is significantly more frenzied than the main game, especially if you are someone who isn’t quite used to this sort of game. But if you manage to get through the adventure without too much trouble, Time Attack shouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, there is no Quick Play, which I think is essential to a game. The beauty of Minesweeper is that you can start it up and play it at any time, and whether you win or lose, you just start over and do it again (unless you want to adjust the parameters, that is). I was hoping for the same ability from Mole Control, so its absence is slightly disappointing. Thankfully, you can replay your favorite levels whenever you want and the moles will be placed in random locations, so at least it is only a minor setback.
My biggest issue is that you have to move one square at a time, which can make travel a daunting task. I understand that this is most likely to keep you from accidentally driving out into un-scouted territory, but it would be nice if we could drive freely over cleared areas. There is a helicopter that essentially allows you to do this, but it requires you to click on the special icon, click on your destination, and wait for the animation. It gets the job done, but it’s not quite as fluid as I would like. The helicopter is very helpful, however, when it comes to traveling above the grass in order to get to another location if you are stuck.
The biggest problem of all, I think, is the inability to save your progress in a level. The game will save your progress between levels and it will even save any golden moles you catch, but if you quit in the middle of a level, you will have to start it over from the beginning when it’s time to resume. This is a major faux pas in casual gaming. Issues like these strike me as rather odd oversights, but I have to admit that it never got in the way of me enjoying myself. Surprisingly, I can almost overlook the poor save system purely because it gives me a reason to play the game longer. That certainly doesn’t excuse it, however, and for the sake of this Mole Control review, I feel inclined to rank it slightly lower than it would otherwise deserve.
Still, even with the issues I found, Mole Control is one of the best games I have played so far this year and I expect it to be near the top of my list for months to come. It is a refreshing and clever take on a beloved classic and it is a great buy for anyone who wants to be entertained while honing their problem-solving skills. It may not be perfect, but give the demo a try and you may be able to see why I strongly recommend it anyway. I sincerely hope that this is only the beginning for Remode and Mole Control.
Mole Control was developed by Remode Studios and published by Blitz 1UP. It was released for the PC on January 29, 2010.