Thursday, January 11, 2018

Plug n Play Game Corner: Whac-A-Mole

It's time to continue a saga started nearly 2 years ago! ...And by that, I mean, it's time to review the second out of only three Plug n Play games from Milton Bradley. It's Milton Bradley: Episode II: Attack of the Moles! ...Whac-A-Moles, to be exact.

Game: Whac-A-Mole
Distributor: Milton Bradley
Release Date: 2005
Genre: Arcade

Back in 2016, I took a look at the My Little Pony: Grand PuzzleVenture game from Milton Bradley. ...Because I have to own every single Plug n Play system out there and I choose most game reviews at random!

But, despite my pessimism and regret at having to play a game so far out of my demographic that it practically resides on Mars, it turned out to be one of the BEST Plug n Play games I've featured on this blog! It had a great voice cast with fully recorded dialog, the game modes were nice and varied with a lot of selection, it had a fair bit of challenge for both newcomers and experienced players, there was an arcing story that joined the minigames together and gave a definite beginning and end to the adventure, and the animation was BEAUTIFUL, still ranking as probably the best animated Plug n Play game I've ever come across!

Only if they somehow managed to fit Dragon's Lair on one of these consoles will I probably ever find animation and artwork that surpasses Grand PuzzleVenture's.

I've gone over the game in great detail in my review of it and how it works on nearly every level, so I'd recommend checking that out. And, once you do, I also recommend hunting a copy down just to see for yourself how good it is! Whether you're a fan of the franchise or not, you might just find something to enjoy from this hidden Plug n Play gem.

Anyway, in that review, I mentioned that Milton Bradley put out only one other Plug n Play game before it was fully absorbed into Hasbro in the late 00s: a Plug n Play version of Whac-A-Mole.

As it turns out, I was wrong. ...Big shock, I know. MB churned out at least one other game before disappearing forever: Wild Adventure Mini Golf. I've since tracked it down, in a boxed version even, and we'll be looking at it sometime down the road to put a lid on the "saga".

But, since I grabbed this chapter in the Milton Bradley Trilogy, let's take a look at Whac-A-Mole! Which I even have the box for! ...Sort of... It's obviously been opened and is missing the instructions. ...I'M NOT PERFECT!

The title design, and most of the artwork, is the exact same used for the box art of the time

 Right down to the dizzy mole with the red helmet in the bottom-right corner

But they did include the "TV" prefix on the title. ...Just in case somebody seriously thought this was the electronic game version and decided the AV cables sprouting out of it were just a defect and snipped them off before even bothering to test the game, I guess...

Interestingly, the title background is much more similar to the unrelated Whac a Mole game published by Activision for the GBA and DS. ...And be honest, you didn't even know this existed before I pointed it out, did you?

The other side of the front shows a screenshot of the game on a TV, as well as a cartoon boy who's WAAAAAAAYYY too excited for what he's playing. ...Seriously, you couldn't get that expression on your face if somebody handed you the keys to creation itself!

The cord isn't even coming from the console! It's a cord with one jack that just appears out of the white void surrounding the kid, plugged into the front of the TV! I think this kid is a bit mentally challenged and can't comprehend how to learn to play the game, so somebody just recorded some footage on a old RF camera, plugged it into the TV(which for some reason has the RF input on the FRONT), and told the kid that he's actually playing the game as the prerecorded footage rolls! ...That would explain the kid's expression, at least. ...Console's probably not even on...

We're also told to "Plug into your TV for 7 wacky mole adventures." ...Clearly, they don't know how to use their puns. It should actually read "...7 'whack-y' mole adventures." In 5 seconds, I've outsmarted a 12-year-old Plug n Play game box! ...Hooray...

The sides of the box have a similar take to the quote on the front, telling us to "Plug into your TV for Fast-actin', Mole Whack'n Fun!" ...If you took the first five words off, you also have a tagline for children's facial cream!

 The back contains a few screenshots of the game, plus a few blurbs in a desperate attempt to sell you this game.

"A Mole's World Comes to Life!" ...And is quickly ended by a heavy wooden mallet smashing its brains in...

"Travel to the mansion, the beach, and the city whacking the moles as you go." ...I'm pretty sure that if you were seen whacking ANYTHING in any of those locations, you'll quickly end your day heavily sedated in a padded cell...

"Try your hand with the mallet, or shake it up  * by splashing or freezing them with water or throwing snowballs at them." And then PETA will lynch you in the town square for all to see!

*Yes, there's actually a double-space there. I'd tell them to proofread their grammar before they send their product out, but look who's talking...

"The more moles you whack the more points and tickets you stack." And you're saying "whack" enough that it's starting to sound dirty... Especially in this context...

"Collect enough tickets, and you get into the Carnival." I definitely agree bludgeoning moles would result in tickets, but the only place they'd get you is jail for your unpaid fines and many crimes against wildlife...

"Whatever you choose, it's a mole-tacular plug and play adventure." Come on, that pun doesn't even make sense! Again, it should be "...a 'whack-tacular' plug and play adventure." I know whoever designed this box probably wasn't paid enough to buy a cup of coffee, but I'm just stating the obvious jokes here!

My absolute favorite part is where they're listing the contents, and they actually had to put "TV not included" as part of it! ...If you're the kind of person who thinks that buying a Plug n Play game also nets you a TV inside the box, you're probably not someone who should be buying stuff in the first place... Or even be out in public...

The console itself is pretty much what you'd expect a Whac-A-Mole game to look like. Four moles, one in each corner, each colored differently. It's slightly smaller than the typical Whac-A-Mole game*, which is probably to cut down on size and costs and make it easier to press the buttons. Since you're supposed to be pecking out the moles on the screen rather than the controller, this change is for the best.

*Unless you have one of those electronic handheld Whac-A-Mole games from Marvel.

The moles are a little hard to make out on the buttons, simply being raised profiles of the same color as the buttons. They're just the same designs as the box artwork, though, so it's not like you're begging to have a clear view of each of their faces after being given severe concussions.

There's also the Quit button, which serves as the standard Menu button

And the Special button. ...We'll be getting back to what that does.

 The buttons are REALLY spongey and raised up from the rest of the console. Seeing as how it's a game meant for 6-year-olds to pound buttons with a plastic hammer as hard as they can, I'd say this was a good call to extend the life of the console as long as possible. ...Until they spill their chocolate milk on it, anyway.

Speaking of which, here's the hammer that comes with the console. It's just a downscaled version of the hammer that comes with other Whac-A-Mole games. I didn't really use it while recording footage anyway, due to the size of my hands, my lack of surface space, and the fact it fit in my hands like a regular controller anyway.

Though that does bring me back to the kid on the box. Look at HIS mallet! It's HUGE! It's half the size of his head, and clearly a REAL wooden mallet that's a different design to the one included! Also, he's holding the system in his other hand, meaning he's actually intending to play the game with a heavy wooden mallet while his fingers are on the surface of the console! ...Maybe this is the son of the guy who thought he'd get a TV included with the Plug n Play game?

One more thing before I finally shut up and show you some game footage is that I'm REALLY happy that they child-proofed the RCA cords, combining them into one casing. I am SO sick of having to tape torn A/V cords back together for these consoles...

Same developers as Grand PuzzleVenture. No surprises there.

The game starts up with a Main Menu, listing New Game, Saved Game, Training, and Options. Since this was my first playthrough, the options are all sound-based, and the training option is just playing various levels from the actual game with no reward, I went ahead and selected a New Game.

The save slots are represented by these 4 moles, each with a different hat. I went with the one with the red beanie. Because beanies are cool!

Though the only difference it makes is what color the mole's hat is on the "Overworld Map." From here, the game branches out into 7 different levels:

Winter Fun
Backyard Garden
City Street
Final Adventure

That last one is inaccessible at the start of the game, requiring a certain number of tickets won across all other worlds before it opens. So we'll ignore that one for now and head over to our first destination:

 The Mansion. This is the ideal starting level, as there are no major unique mechanics that you'll see in later zones, so it's the best place to get acquainted with the controls and gameplay. ...Though, it's Whac-A-Mole, so there's not exactly textbook upon phone book of rules and instructions to memorize...

Each zone's menu(how many levels deep are we at this point?) presents the options of "Pop Up Moles", "Run Around Moles", "Ticket", and "Back".

"Pop Up Moles" is the standard Whac-A-Mole game mode. When a mole opens the window, you press the corresponding button before he ducks back in to give him a severe concussion! Lather, rinse, repeat. It's one of the most simplistic games known to humankind. ...Which also makes it one of the most entertaining and timeless, so no complaints.

Especially with how the game speeds up as you go, quickly turning into a button-mashing mess! ...Though I say that in the best possible way.

Every so often, a power-up, like this tomato, pops up, and this is where the Special button comes into play.

The Special button shuffles through all acquired power-ups. Select one and toss it at the moles for additional points, which, since this is a timed point-based game, is crucial to earning tickets. But aim carefully, since the Special ammo is limited.

For additional points, furniture and tableware sometimes pop up to shoot at. ...Well, you're already committing genocide of sentient mole people. Might as well add destruction of property to that!

Every 100 points nets you a ticket, which is very helpfully represented by the ticket dispenser in the upper left corner. You'll need these tickets for later, so aim true, rodent repeller!

After about 90 seconds, the round ends and a little animation of the chosen character hops happily in front of the text "You Did It!", happy to have witnessed the slaughter of his underground brethren! ...And since I'm probably sounding like a broken record and starting to depress myself at this point, I'm going to start cutting back on the extermination jokes...

"Run Around Moles" is the less conventional Whac-A-Mole game. Here, the moles aren't limited to fixed positions, instead moving around the screen unpredictably. Running on the ground, climbing out of chimneys, jumping up to and down from the roof, etc. You just need to wait until their paths lead them to one of the colored zones, then WHACK 'EM! WHACK 'EM GOOD!

Or throw a tomato(or water droplet) at them for bonus points. Even higher bonus if there are multiple moles in the same space!

If you're after tickets and want to get to the end of the game as quickly as possible, this is the mode to focus on. The patterns and numbers of moles are much less "set" than the previous mode, making for much faster and chaotic gameplay. That means that you can whack a lot more moles and score more points than the previous mode, once you get the timing down and the hang of whacking a moving target. The increased chance of scoring bonus points is a help as well. In the 2 minute time limit, I was able to score 1300 points, compared to the regular mode's 455, so if you're looking for a mode with a bit more of a bite, this is the Whac-A-Mole experience to choose.

It's also a little interesting that your score and ticket count carries over from the previous mode. I like it. It gives the feeling of being at an actual arcade and being so addicted to a certain game, you don't take the ticket roll until you've spent every quarter. ...It's a good thing for the prize corner they have automatic ticket counters nowadays...

Since I made such a big deal about it with Grand PuzzleVenture, I guess I should comment on THIS game's animation before we move on. It's... OK. I appreciate that they once again went for the more hand-drawn style instead of pixelly sprites, and they gave quite a bit of movement to these characters, like animating them climbing out of a chimney, for example. Plus little things like the door opening and closing are nice touches. However, it's clearly not as good as Grand PuzzleVenture, with a lot of the animations(such as when you actually whack a mole) being quite choppy and simplified, as opposed to the fluidity of the former. But, since this came first and I'd assume they'd pour more money into an actual licensed moneymaker than yet another Whac-A-Mole clone, the difference in quality is understandable.

When the two minutes are up, you once again get the "You Did It!" animation. And congratulations! You have just learned basically all there is to know about how to play this game! Now go forth to the next 5 zones and do the exact same thing over again!

But don't forget to grab your tickets on the way out!

Since this is once again a game that plays virtually the same throughout, I'll just quickly go through the remaining zones and what few points set them apart. Whac, whac, whac 'n roll!

The Farm. The Special weapon is pie and bonus items are fruit, but otherwise the same mechanics as the previous zone. You just get to whack moles dressed in stereotypical hillbilly farmer outfits.

The major addition here are farm animals that randomly pop up in a corner and will penalize our score if hit. ...Though it might be worth whacking them just to see the animations that occur. ...PETA's currently hiring a hitman with my name on the list, aren't they?

 Winter Fun. Special weapon is a snowball and you're shooting winter accessories for bonus points. It's also here that they start to play around with the mechanics.

 As you can probably tell, the normally-square whacking area is slightly stretched and skewed, with the blue and yellow areas nearly intersecting. This messes with the perspective of the field a bit, and you can sometimes find yourself pushing blue when you meant yellow and vice versa. It's not horribly confusing, but it is enough to throw me off sometimes.

In this zone, the Water Special weapon has the bonus effect of freezing moles, giving you bonus points for turning them to ice! This is a perfect strategy for getting multiple moles together on the same circle and then whacking them with the hammer for a combined bonus on top of the points from the water! ...But act quickly, since the effect is temporary.

Insert one of the many bad ice puns from Arnold's Mr. Freeze character here.

But then, to ruin your fun, they also include a sledding mole in the background that has to be hit very quickly as he starts down the hill in the green circle, or he throws a snowball, costing 10 points and briefly blinding you! ...And if you didn't notice the sledding mole in the background until I pointed it out, I don't blame you with all the action already on screen! What geniuses got together and decided to include a background hazard that you likely wouldn't notice with all the stuff in the foreground already demanding your attention?! This isn't Spelunky you're designing for, and I'll tell you right now, I wish I was playing that instead!

Backyard Garden. ...I think they had an off day while making this zone, since the Special weapon is a tomato again, and you're once again trying not to hit cute animals.

...Really, that's it. Fire tomatoes and water at the moles and don't hit dogs or kittens. NEXT!

City Street. Special weapon is a soda can, and bonus points are trash cans and money. This "Pop Up Moles" has the moles emerging from manhole covers, so it adds the animation of the covers moving to give a split second earlier warning where the moles are coming from.

...Until late in the game, where the moles pop up WEARING the manhole covers! And they're fully protected from hammer swings in this state! You can still whack them and they still react, but you receive no points. So if you're out of Special weapons at this point, you're on the Satellite Of Love, buddy...

Oh, but the torture doesn't stop there. Did you not get enough of the sledding snowball chuckers from Winter Fun? Well, now you have less obvious random moles that throw water balloons at you for the same effect! ...Typical urban greeting, I guess... Hey, I've been to New York.

And to these hydrated-bag-throwing nocturnal rodent menaces, I just have one request:

Please burrow your way to Breezie Blossom so I can bathe the area in pesticide and get rid of both you and the Breezies at once... Heck, see if you can invite those glider-riding biscuitheads from Spider-Man on your way there...

Beach. The final regular zone in the game. It shares the skewed hit zone from Winter Fun, but it's much less hard to make out here. Special weapon is a beach ball, and you're mashing beach items for bonus points.

Luckily, this level does not contain sadistic snowball or balloon-throwers, crying cute animals, or mighty manhole-wearing moles. ...However, that Water Special weapon that's been present across all the zones? It's completely useless here! It works on bonus items, but throwing it at a mole only results in a half-second stun and no point gain. ...I mean, we are at the beach after all... So whack 'em with a beach ball instead! That'll cause more damage! Let a bit of the air out to leave a bigger welt! ...And please don't give your kids that advice...

Finally, after traversing the six previous worlds, collecting at least 75 tickets total, and exterminating who knows how many species of mole in the process, we're finally allowed access to the Final Adventure. What wonders await us after about 30 minutes of animal brutality?!

...Slightly different versions of Whac-A-Mole from what we've already played. ...Yeah...

I guess I don't know what I was expecting, but the area you worked so hard to open is just a continuation of the rest of the game! It doesn't amp up the difficulty, it doesn't add new challenges to each zone, it's not the credits, it's just more Whac-A-Mole. ...I don't know why I'm so upset about this. I guess I'm just not happy that they built up the final zone, only to have it be just another zone. ...My expectations are too high for this game...

Well, might as well check them out.

"Mole Water Slides." Moles try to slide down and you need to position the only slide in front of each before they fall into the pool with a mediocre splash. ...So we just spent the entire game murdering these things, and now we're expected to help them have a good time? ...I see nothing wrong with that. Let's move on.

It's interesting I mentioned Breezie Blossom earlier, since this area has a similar premise and challenge. You need to position the slide in front of the color the mole is sliding down before the mole reaches the end. ...The problem is that the colors are organized in a row, instead of the pattern throughout the rest of the game, so it becomes more a matter of remembering which button is which color, instead of mindless hammering on said buttons. As you can probably tell by the video, I didn't quite manage to master this tactic... I just had to keep repeating "Blue Green Yellow Red, Blue Green Yellow Red, Blue Green Yellow Red, Blue Green Yellow Red, Blue Green Yellow Red" to myself, and once in a while send a mole flying. It was a change of pace, but not quite as much fun as the rest of the game.

Also, a few frames of the moles falling show them without their swim trunks... I guess he decided mid-jump to join the Zootopia naturalist group, then quickly decided against it?

Yet, despite my complaints about the previous area, it's a different take for the game. "Big Top Mole Acrobats", on the other hand, is a return to the regular layout of Whac-A-Mole. Wait until a mole gets on one of the seesaws, whack it, and send him flying. ...I'm glad I got to talk in great depth on how to play this game.

And that is Whac-A-Mole! ...Yes, seriously, that's the end of the game. No credit sequence or victory screen or any indication that the game didn't have more to it. I actually had to look up someone else's playthrough to confirm that I had, in fact, gotten to the very end of the game. ...The Final Adventure didn't even take my tickets... So if you like whacking moles, getting smacked in the face with tiny projectiles, and anticlimaxes, this is the game for you!

And I'm pleased to award this trophy to everyone who avoided making any jokes about the repeated use of the term "whacking" throughout this entire review! ...Nobody won, did they?


Design: The console definitely looks like a Whac-A-Mole game from Milton Bradley. Four raised pegs spread across each corner of a green and white console, with the name plastered in the middle. It's much less detailed than an electronic version of the game, with the mole models reduced to outlines on solid colors, but I get the impression this was done to lessen damage to a console kids are actually meant to beat into oblivion. If I just saw the console by itself on shelves, I would recognize it as a Whac-A-Mole game, though I'd have to look closely if there was a cord coming out of it and it wasn't one of the several dozen other variants. Also, bonus points for the "child-proof" un-unraveling TV cord.

Controls: ...You literally mash buttons. It's not the most complicated nor challenging control scheme. However, I will say that they designed the buttons in a way that smashing them during gameplay doesn't result in much recoil and doesn't make my hands hurt from repeatedly slamming my thumb or palm against anything. When I pushed a button, the hammer slammed down in the correct circle on the screen, and for a game like this, that's really all that counts. I can't find any complaints in this department. ...Except the hammer was completely unnecessary. Though it was a good cosmetic addition.

Music & Sound: This is another game where I had to go back and watch the footage to remember it even HAD music. It's very cartoony, obnoxious "horn" music, every track sounding like it was played with synthesized trumpets, saxophones, cowbells, and pipe organs. It's basically the "go to" melody if you're looking for something upbeat and cheerful, but you don't want to put any actual work into it... Plus, there are only about 4 tracks: one for the overworld, one for the carnival at the end, and two they randomly recycle for the title and the stages. I'd say it grates on you after a while, but, as I pointed out, you'll have tuned it out and forgotten about it in no time. Like Grand PuzzleVenture, this game ALSO features a wide array of spoken voice clips! ...Unlike PuzzleVenture, it quickly becomes annoying... You'll hear the same "My Glasses", "Yoo-Hoo", "Good One", "Good Shot", and whistling noises so many times in each zone, that you'll quickly be tempted to just mute the TV. Plus you get the annoying "narrator" in a few areas that just tells you "Don't get hit" or "Don't hit the animals" every time one of those instances occurs. Not to mention that the clips can stack, filling the speakers with several moles shouting "Yoo-Hoo" all at once CONSTANTLY! So on the one hand, I'm glad they bothered to add "dialog" and make it sound so clear. On the other hand, it becomes VERY grating after a while, enough for any parent to regret buying it for their kids... If you do get this game, have the mute button close at hand...

Graphics: I feel bad about having to judge this category, since the overall judgement is of course going to be "not as good as Grand PuzzleVenture." With that said, I can give it credit for its more hand-drawn sprites and backgrounds. It legitimately looks like someone drew these characters and backgrounds, then scanned them in, resulting in sprites and layouts that have a cartoonish style and that don't rely heavily on pixel art. However, the animation, as well as not being as good as Grand PuzzleVenture, is also inconsistent, even more so than the former. The walk cycles are fluid, and when they have to climb looks pretty fluid, but things like the dizzy animation and the sleds in the Winter Fun zone are choppy at best. It's like they had two different teams for the moles' animation and they didn't pay the latter as much. Overall, I can say that the game has a fun and cartoonish style, and there was some degree of professional design to it. ...I just wish it looked nice all the way through...

Gameplay: Just like a regular Whac-A-Mole game, the gameplay is mindless, mostly just wailing on the buttons, trying to hit the moles that pop up. However, I can give it additional points for implementing strategies and unique mechanics only possible with a video version of a Whac-A-Mole game. The Special weapons are a nice touch, involving you having to time your shots well to maximize your point potential with limited ammo. Every 100 points gets you a ticket, so find the quickest way to get to 100 to maximize your tickets each round. I can also credit it for most levels having their own unique mechanics, such as things you can't whack, hazards that subtract points if not stopped, and making Special weapons more effective or completely ineffective. There was some attempt to add to a very simple game style, and it worked for the most part. However, the quest to open the Final Adventure really wasn't worth it. It's so similar to the rest of the game and so inconsequential to anything else, that slogging through the other zones just isn't worth it. They could have had this zone opened from the start and nothing would have been lost. There could have at least been a "Congratulations" screen when the door was finally opened to symbolize that that was indeed the goal and it was completed. I legitimately didn't know if that was all the game offered when I opened the door, that's how anticlimactic it was! So the game is not as much a collection of minigames with a goal as it is just the same monotonous game repeated with a few variations, and eventually another game mode shows up. ...Insert Call of Duty joke here.

Replay Value: The whole game can be unlocked in under 30 minutes, and profiles and scores are saved to allow players to come back at any time. ...It's just a matter of WANTING to come back. I think even little kids would eventually get bored of the repetitive mole mashing, and there's not even a High Score table to show off to their friends and family. I guess if you need some stress relief and you can't find your fidget cube, you could come back to this and poind on the buttons for a while. Otherwise, it's likely you'll get tired of it after the first playthrough.


It's a pretty simple game with just enough to keep you going, but it's not that great either. The graphics are pretty good, the controls are responsive, and the game is exactly as advertised, but the sound and music is annoying and the gameplay is monotonous. It's made for little kids to just pound on for a few minutes, so I can't give it too much grief, but after the Star Wars game I just talked about, this is a pretty bland and boring variation of a Plug n Play console. If you have a spare TV and you'd just like something for your kids to play to get out all their energy, this is fine for that. Otherwise, just find an arcade or fair and play Whac-A-Mole the old-fashioned way on an actual machine. You'll even get physical tickets for physical prizes!