When you live in a city named Molar Creek, you really should be shocked to find out the town has a bit of a mole problem. Well, a mole problem or a dental college. Molar Creek is simply overrun with them (moles, not dental colleges) and it’s up to you to suck each and every one of them out of the ground with a mole-sucking machine like a mechanical Carl Speckler.

Mole Control is a modern take on Minesweeper, wrapped up in a simple story and some terrific level design. Molar Creek’s resident scientist has invented a mole control buggy that detects and removes these dangerous moles, and he wants you to pilot it. And why are these moles so dangerous? They explode!

To find the moles you’ll move the buggy one square at a time around each level, keeping an eye on the number you see on the body of the buggy. If it shows a 1 that means there’s 1 mole in an adjacent square. If you see a 2 then there are 2 moles hiding in adjacent squares. If you see a 0, it’s safe to proceed in any direction. This numerologocial gameplay should sound instantly familiar to Minesweeper veterans.

Mole Control

Once you’ve passed over a square the color of the grass will change to let you know you’ve safely passed over this point, so you won’t go back and cover ground you’ve already explored. If a number shows up on your buggy, that number will stay on the ground once you move so that you can try to figure out where the mole is hiding. Mole Control, just like Minesweeper before it, is all about pinpointing the location of your target by uncovering the squares around it using logic. Once you think you’ve found a mole’s location, right click on it to try and suck it into the buggy.

Mole Control may borrow its basic mechanic from Minesweeper, but that doesn’t mean the game is merely a Minesweeper clone. Taking that basic puzzle mechanic and wrapping a story and excellent presentation around it brings Minesweeper into the 21st century on its own. But where Mole Control really shines and sets itself apart from its predecessor is in level design.

Minesweeper‘s playing field was never more than a simple grid. Sometimes it was 40×40, sometimes it was 100×100 – but it was always just a basic grid. Mole Control offers up unique levels featuring strong layout design, obstacles, and even safe zones for the buggy to maneuever around. You’ll never be in trouble on concrete, for example, but the statue in the middle of the scene might make it seemingly impossible for you to nail down the location of that next mole. Little twists like this make the challenge feel fresh and different on every level.

Mole Control

Some of the levels are also quite long, taking 20-30 minutes to complete. This wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the harsh penalties set for making a mistake. You’ll be allowed to dig in the wrong location or accidentally run over a mole only twice. If it happens 3 times, it’s game over. And since the game doesn’t offer a mid-level save, you’ll need to go all the way back to the beginning. When you’ve spent 10-20 minutes on a level, starting it over from scratch feels more than a little disheartening.

Part of the reason each level takes so long is that the game moves so slowly. Moving only one square at a time makes sense in some instances, but when you’re trying to move across an area you’ve already deemed perfectly safe, clicking square by square can feel fairly tedious. There’s no reason the game couldn’t let you click on a safe destination and quickly travel there so long as you have a clear path. The game does offer a separate “helicopter”mode that will let you travel to a safe concrete-only location with the click of a button, but it’s just not the same thing.

Minor complaints aside, Mole Control takes an old formula and makes it new again. The style, originality and simple fun were absolutely top notch. The presentation made this feel like a strong PopCap release, but this isn’t even a PopCap game! No matter how tired you think you are of Minesweeper, Mole Control will make you fall in love with its gameplay all over again.