Like if 3D World had a Monty Mole mode.
If you’ve ever sat around playing a 3D Mario game, thinking to yourself, “I sure do wish Monty Mole had his own game,” then Mail Mole might be for you. Mail Mole is a 3D platformer in much the same vein as Super Mario 3D World. We’ve seen a resurgence of 3D platformers of late featuring all manner of creatures and characters jumping from place to place. The big difference for Mail Mole is that playing as a mole has a real tangible effect on gameplay.
At a glance, Mail Mole may look fairly generic. Its bland, flat, art design doesn’t exactly draw the eye. But Mail Mole makes one important change to traditional 3D platforming that has a surprisingly large ripple across its gameplay. As a mole, Molty (the protagonist) spends most of the game underground. And I don’t mean in underground levels, I mean he’s literally burrowing around the level rather than running around on top. The only way you know where Molty is, is via the dirt he kicks up as he moves. This impacts the game in two ways: Molty’s freedom of movement and his jumping mechanics.
Because Molty is underground, he can very easily slip through small gaps. While it doesn’t seem like something you’d have trouble adjusting to, the level design regularly enjoys pointing it out by allowing Molty to slip into areas that wouldn’t be accessible were he to be standing above ground. Molty’s jumps take even more getting used to. Rather than simply pressing a button to jump and perhaps holding it longer to jump higher, Molty only jumps when you release the jump button. Keeping the button held down for longer allows a jump to charge up. Once again, this doesn’t seem like it would be a huge adjustment, until you realize that it means all significant jumps need to be planned. A quick tap of the jump button will barely cause Molty to leave the ground. This makes for a more thoughtful platforming experience than one commonly sees.
Outside of these mechanics, the basic structure of Mail Mole is very traditional. Worlds are accessed from a central hub with each world including four stages. Upon completion of all stages in a world, a race will be unlocked through one of those stages. I was a little worried at first as the early stages are painfully easy, but there is a nice slope up the difficulty curve once you make it a couple worlds in. The races at the end of each world in particular, generally offer a very real challenge. Every once in a while, a turtle pirate in a UFO will attack and you’ll need to fight him off. These boss fights do grow gradually more complicated, but it was a little disappointing to essentially see the exact same concept used over and over again with only mildly more complex layouts.
The one area of Mail Mole I struggled to get into was its visual design. Molty himself looks quite charming, but the world itself and the other characters don’t feel like they have the same amount of thought put into them. Now and then a stage would come along with a more ambitious visual identity; some of the ruins stages come to mind. However, overall Mail Mole is very plain on the visual front. On the bright side, it does run quite well and looks sharp both docked and handheld. The music is also fun and fits the tone well.
Mail Mole is a very interesting concept that is largely executed well. It forces the player to adjust their brain to a new kind of 3D platforming in a way few games do. Its only real failing is that these ideas could benefit from being pushed further. Repeated concepts with only minimal iteration can make the mid game a bit slow. That being said it still represents a surprisingly original 3D platformer whose concepts I’d love to see taken even further.