I love it when a game comes out of nowhere that looks like it is tailor-made for me. I often find hidden gems that way that often go overlooked by other people.
Sometimes, however, it turns out to be trash.
Mail Mole opens with Molty the Mole (not Monty!) relaxing on holiday when suddenly he gets a letter asking him to come to Carrotland to help them with an emergency situation. Their electricity has gone out and your brother, who is covering for you, has injured his leg. The Mail Service there must be pretty bad if they only have two moles working for them. Anyway, Molty (not Monty!) has to deliver the reset codes to the various power stations and restore the power. Throw in an Alien Turtle out of nowhere who wants to steal the power, and that’s the gist of it. It’s a pretty strange and confusing setup for a plotline, but it doesn’t matter that much if you don’t pay attention since it never really goes anywhere. There are seven worlds in total, each with four levels to choose from. Progression is tied to beating levels rather than collectibles (more on those later), and there are relatively frequent boss fights with the Alien Turtle thing (definitely more on that later).
Mail Mole offers a rather unique set of controls for a 3D platformer. As a mole, you will be tunneling underground and leaping out of your hole from time to time to do a little platforming. Most things can be tunneled through, although you will find some things that can’t from time to time. Despite being underground, obstacles that appear over ground will still block the hero’s path. It’s a little jarring because it makes no sense, but I guess it’s done for gameplay reasons, so it’s fine. The controls do a feel a little imprecise, however, and I rarely felt secure when jumping – often fearing that I wouldn’t land where I wanted to. The later levels feature some intense platforming and the controls often lead to your death. Going at speed makes things worse, since our burrowing friend likes to hop over small objects – including the fence barriers around the level… cue Molty (not Monty!) leaping to his demise. Despite this, they are more or less functional, but nowhere near as tight as they ought to be.
Molty (not Monty) can use the carrots and turnips that he finds on his adventure in order to purchase some outfits to show off in game. Here’s some of the wonderful costumes he can adorn:
THE ENGLISH GENT
SUPER MOLEIO 3D WORLD
If you’ve ever played Super Mario 3D World, you may experience a lot of déjà vu when playing Mail Mole. Let’s have a look at some of the gimmicks in the game:
These are a small handful of examples, but there are many more: from dash pads to spiked pillars, Mail Mole definitely borrows more than a few things from Super Mario 3D World.
How many can you find?
Worlds generally have some kind of platforming theme, whether it be rolling hills, moving platforms, or even platforms that switch when you jump; these are used in a variety of different ways throughout the four levels, but are rarely used in any unique way. Most of these gameplay gimmicks are standard tropes, or blatantly borrowed from other platforming titles – predominantly Super Mario 3D World. The game really shows a lack of creativity with its levels design and, outside of a small handful of levels, feels quite procedural and bland for the most part. Very much a case of been there, done that. They typically only last about a minute or so too, which in itself is fine, but every one is accompanied by a massive amount of waiting: celebration screens, cannon firing animations, stats screens, loading; all in all, it takes around 40 seconds from reaching the end to opening the level selection screen again (I timed it), which is as long as some of the actual levels. It gets tedious very fast, especially as sometimes there are additional cutscenes when a new world is available, and it will spawn you near the new world – leading to more wasted time. You need to beat every level in order to access the final world, plus two levels from the race mode (which feels like a tiresome reason to get you to try it). The finale is a nice change of pace since it offers a decent challenge and is reasonably fun compared to the rest of the game, even if the controls can make some sections ridiculous to do without taking damage.
The standard collectibles are here, as is standard for the genre: each level has three turnips to find, and loads of carrots (never any specific number – just a lot). This is all to be expected from the genre, but where this game differs is in the usage. Much like Super Mario Odyssey, the game uses collectibles as a currency to purchase costumes for Molty (not Monty!); however, unlike Nintendo’s outing, Mail Mole also uses the main collectible – turnips – for purchasing costumes. It’s a really weird decision, as it provides little incentive to go out of your way to hunt for them – after all, being a mole results in being underground and out of sight for the vast majority of the time.
In addition to the main levels, every so often the hub world will be attacked by the Alien Turtle guy, which results in a forced fight aboard the UFO. It’s a real pace killer, especially since these fights offer little in the way of fun. Each fight follow the same pattern: move around in a circle avoiding his cannon fire and activating buttons until you deactivate the power, which… stuns him? They all play out exactly the same and none of them offer any enjoyment. These were by far the worst part of the game since the UFO seems really out of place in Carrotland, and also because I found them tedious at best.
I’ve held off talking about the game from a visual and audio perspective, mainly because it is arguably the weakest part of the game. The art style is low poly, which can look great when done well, but in Mail Mole it looks ugly, for the most part. The first world in particular looks very dull and generally unpleasant. NPC models don’t fare much better either, with a couple looking fine but then the others looking like they could be generic animal assets. I know the game probably didn’t have too much of a budget, but I’ve seen lower budget games presented a lot better than this. The audio too isn’t much better, with the music feeling not only bad in quality, but also out of place. After a while, I found myself just muting the game audio: something I very rarely do.
All in all, Mail Mole is a rather poor overall experience. Unoriginality, mixed with unpolished graphics, awful music, and controls that don’t quite work, all make for a rather unpleasant game. Despite the cheap price, there are many far better 3D platformers available on the Switch you should be playing instead.