NINTENDO DS REVIEW: WHAC-A-MOLE

Attempting to make Whac-a-Mole into a game is like trying to pass of an appetizer as the main course.

Whac-a-Mole is just what you think it is - plus a little bit more. If you don't what Whac-a-Mole is then I'm sure you don't know what to think. That's why I'm here - to do the thinking for you. You may have seen and played this game in real life at carnivals and arcades where fiberglass rodents pop their heads out of various holes while the player smashes them with a fake, oversized mallet. It's fun, to be sure, but it's not meant to be played anymore than a handful of times. Transferring this concept to a videogame required a lot of guts. The result is not terrible but it's definitely mini-game material.

As simple as the concept is, this is no Space Invaders although traces of it are evident in the gameplay. It will see its share of action with the younger crowd but even the most obsessive of kids will quickly tire of the gameplay in short order. It may get played a little here and there but it won't inspire any marathon sessions.

The competitive aspect will give it party status as the top high scores are recorded for posterity - which means that someone will always want to beat them and be immortalized forever or at least until some new gunslinger comes along and bests his or her high score. A wireless multi-player mode lets contestants battle it out head-to-head, requiring only one copy of the game.

Oddly enough Whac-a-Mole doesn't entirely suck. It's got more depth than I expected, which isn't much but it's got tiddlywinks beat. You won't be using a mallet in this version. The stylus is your tool as you poke at the critters instead of actually whacking them. There are good and bad rodent to hit. Hit a plush rodent and you will lose points. Then there are Ninja and robber moles that will also steal your points. This keeps you on your toes so you're not just riding on automatic pilot tapping at everything that moves like a hard-wired automaton.

A puzzle mode offers more gameplay diversion. I was quite impressed with how the gameplay concept lends itself to such variations. It extends the replay value a bit as it can be quite challenging and addictive. It's not Tetris but it's still better than tiddlywinks. The idea of this mode is to hit differently colored moles in a pre-set pattern that is displayed at the top of the screen. It's like Whac-a-Mole bingo. Occasionally the background colors interfere with the colors the moles leave behind. I do profess to having a bit of a hard time differentiating closely shaded colors so some of the levels were really difficult for me. I know you care. Send me a flower.

Overall, the levels display a good deal of detail but the backgrounds aren't interactive and fairly static. The moles are well rendered with goofy personalities and smooth animations. Coming to grips with the stylus is easy. It's very accurate and responsive. When you tap one of the little varmints, he's tapped. It's no mallet but it's better than tiddlywinks. From the collision detection to the framerate the mechanics are solid. The tunes are upbeat and have a distinctive arcade quality to them which seems a little too forced and artificial in a home environment. It makes me think that some things should just be left at the arcade.

Even with all the quality production values, it's hard not to think of this game as a budget title. At $30 I would definitely recommend a rental first lest you be tempted to give it the mallet treatment.

System: DS
Dev: Activision Value
Pub: Activision
Released: Sept 2005
Players: 1 - 2
Review by Cole
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
2.5
GRAPHICS
3.5
CONTROL
4.0
MUSIC/FX
3.0
VALUE
1.5