Maniac Mole
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I am not exactly blessed with an abundance of patience. It’s for this reason, among others, that I am generally lousy at games in the platforming genre. I am a huge fan of exploration. It’s for this reason, among others, that I am always willing to try new games in the platforming genre. My life is a contradiction wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in an overweight wanker with a funny accent.

“Maniac Mole” intrigued me on many levels, all of which were primarily superficial. The title in and of itself is strongly evocative of insane design choices – since when do moles become maniacs? If “Caddyshack” is to be believed, gophers can get quite feisty.

In the past, however, moles have had quite extensive exposure in the world of video games. One mole in particular, anyway – Monty Mole. Another reason why I was so intrigued by “Maniac Mole” was memories of the various Monty Mole games played in the past on my Commodore 64. Monty Mole, Monty on the Run, Auf Wiedersehn Monty, even Impossamole. Matter of fact, I was playing the TurboGrafx 16 version of Impossamole a few nights ago. I was pleased to hear adaptations of a few of Rob Hubbard’s tunes for the game. Unfortunately the game itself? Not so interesting.. but then, that’s not the issue here, dude.

All of these mole platformers I mention were games that I was and remain lousy at, and was and remain intrigued by. Once every six months or so, I’ll fire up, say, Auf Wiedersehn Monty, turn on an infinite lives cheat and go exploring. It helps that the music’s fantastic, the graphics are varied and amusing, and.. well, that I’m a sucker for Commodore 64 nostalgia. You never forget your first.

“Maniac Mole” was, with the possible exception of “Furry Tales”, the most amusingly badly named game in the Phoenix catalogue, and when I saw it on the website, I knew I’d have to have it sooner or later. Presumably, the developer(s) of “Maniac Mole” were also at least familiar with the Commodore 64 (and ZX Spectrum, Amstrad and whichever other computers the various Monty Mole games were ported to) Mole games, and perhaps had taken them as inspiration for a platform game of their own.

That is, if there’s any way that anyone in good conscience can use the word “inspiration” in reference to this game with a straight face.

Towards the 32 bit era (eg PlayStation 1 and Sega Saturn), a new variation on the platform genre started to come to the fore. It’s been referred to as 2.5D – the graphics and backgrounds are modelled such that they have the appearance of three dimensions, however in practice your character is really only moving through two dimensions – left or right. Examples of this would include games such as Pandemonium, Klonoa or the Clockwork Knight games on Saturn. Sure, they looked cool, and scrolling around a lush environment was certainly an advance on the flip screen platforming of the Monty Mole games (and other games in the early days of the platformer genre, such as the Miner Willy games – surely someone out there has heard of Jet Set Willy), but once you take away the graphical majesty, not a whole hell of a lot was different. If anything, it could be argued that the games were simplified, or at least made less challenging. I for one am grateful for that, seeing as being stomped by randomly moving pulverizers in “Monty on the Run” got old fairly quickly, whereas breezing through something like “Spider” on the PlayStation 1 would be a fairly relaxing endeavour.

The Monty Mole Oeuvre Commodore 64 4 LYFE
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Monty Mole Monty on the Run
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Auf Wiedersehn Monty Impossamole

Is this where we part philosophies? Some friends of mine believe that gaming is pointless unless it challenges you – what’s the point of wasting your time on a game that isn’t hard? What kind of a sense of achievement can you get from playing a game where it doesn’t take 5, 50 or 500 attempts to beat that final boss? Others.. OK, just me.. seem to believe that games should simply be fun – and that fun is determined on a case by case basis. I’ve put literally hundreds of hours into playing Red Alert 2 over the years, but I still play it pretty regularly. Certainly not because I’ve yet to master the AI, there’s no longer any particular challenge there – no real source of frustration there. I actually play it more nowadays as a form of “Sim City” with explosions. A playground, essentially.

Perhaps having to point out that I derive my fun from video games in a different way to the norm is a bit redundant. Given the amount of time I’ve spent acquiring, playing and writing about Phoenix budget games, for example, isn’t it clear? I probably spent about as much time playing “Maniac Mole” as I have so far playing, say, “Okami” (especially if you don’t count the 15 minute opening unskippable cut scenes towards playing time – not that I’m bitter, or sick of the pseudo-talk-Charlie-Brown’s-teacher voice noises in them).

“Maniac Mole” isn’t actually all that much of a maniac, but he is rather dextrous. Perhaps there’s something in mole’s diets that gives them kangaroo-esque legs? When one pictures a mole, one doesn’t imagine an avalanche of endless kinaesthetic excess. Then again, when you consider the general anthropormorphism craze prevalent in video games over the past 25 years or so, is it really that surprising that it extended to moles? Witness the PlayStation 1 game “Punky Skunk” as an even more far fetched example. Come to think of it, I don’t believe I even have “Punky Skunk” in my collection. Yet again, I find a way to demonstrate to myself and others that I am less than complete as a man and a human being.

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I've often wanted to run around my basement wearing nothing but a miner's cap and what appears to be a bionic penis

As you might imagine based on reading previous reviews of Phoenix games I’ve written, or perhaps even having the privilege of experiencing them yourself, “Maniac Mole” has rudimentary presentation, intriguing and wholly inappropriate techno music for a soundtrack, and decidedly uninspired gameplay. It’s a 2.5D scroller with not very much of the .5, if any. You run from left to right, jump up on platforms and over obstacles, attempt to avoid creatures and that’s about it. The game’s horrifyingly boring, but this again isn’t a surprise for those who are familiar with Phoenix games.

If you have a mole fetish you must indulge, I strongly suggest employing a Commodore 64 emulator. “Maniac Mole” is really only worth purchasing for the title and the cover art. It’s not everyone who can boast of having a game with so striking a title as “Maniac Mole” in their collection. It’s an instant conversation starter, it’s a declaration of independent thinking, it shows that you have character, a disposable income. Aside from the “Why do you spend your money on utter shit all the time?” brigade, which one should ignore in all circumstances, and the possibility of actually playing the game one night in a fit of ennui, self hatred or drunken grasping at random, I see nothing but benefit in having this game firmly established on your shelf, somewhere between “Leaderboard Golf” and “New York Race”, two other bargain bin games unworthy of play time and evoking superior memories of other products in shameless attempts to sell more copies.


AUTHOR'S COMMENTARY

I originally wrote this as part of a Phoenix Games review compilation on my personal LiveJournal, and this was meant to be a pisstake on "The New Games Journalism", hence excessive length and a distinct lack of actual information related directly to the game. I've no idea if I pulled it off or not, and I don't really care, I like the piece. I also liked Monty on the Run, even if I was shite at it. There is, however, a really good trainer version of Auf Wiedersehn Monty out there for Commodore 64 somewhere which lets you edit screens, position Monty anywhere you want, the whole works - you should totally, like, seek it out, or something. Also, the music is tops.



YouTube footage of "Maniac Mole" complete with insipid commentary. Thanks, insipid commentary guy.

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