Marvin the Mole - Episode 1 - Alan

Whack-a-mole (non computer based fairground attraction), Monty the Mole, The Diary of Arian Mole, and the Gameboy's rather excellent and obscure Molemania - There are many excellent mole based games to play if one is so inclined. Indeed, Gremlin's Monty Mole is something of an unofficial Spectrum mascot in my opinion.

I'm going to cut to the chase: Marvin the Mole - Episode 1 does not add a great deal to the pantheon.

Oh, gosh darn it. I feel quite rotten now, and with some justification. As what we have here is a game that is PERFECT for this competition. It's a game for a start - sort of. And its written purely in Sinclair Basic - which I like. There is some limited sound, and a nice menu with animations. This is all TOP QUALITY stuff!

So what do you actually have to do?

The premise is simple, guide Marvin to his other friends in the shortest number of moves possible.

So, it appears to be based on the travelling salesman problem - interesting! 

'The travelling salesman problem (TSP) asks the following question: "Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city exactly once and returns to the origin city?"'

The game is well programmed, and Marvin is a nice 8 by 8 UDG that moves smoothly around the screen as I attempt to get on the HIGH SCORE table. Yes, there is a high score challenge. Great!

However, as with so many entries on this world famous compo the crap must seep in - and indeed it does.

Marvin the Mole - Episode 1 'rap sheet':

  •  No loading screen :(
  • Limited music.
  • Marvin's friends are randomly coloured and it is quite possible to have a green mole on a green background making him almost impossible to locate. Is this little wheeze the whole reason for this game I wonder? Or at least it's mole theme?* 
  • Marvin's friends are randomly dotted around the screen, meaning that even if I get the best route possible I am not guaranteed a high score.
  • So the game, and its scoring systems are pointless and flawed - I suspect quite deliberately!
  • Because of these limitation it stops feeling like a game, and more or a little joke played at my expense - but that is alright, as it appears to be half the point of this little compo.
But wait!

There is just a change that I have missed something here, and there is in fact a deeper strategy game that I am just too dumb to be any good at. Maybe there is a game here, but it is me that has failed to understand it's brilliance and depth.

That is certainly possible. If you are cleverer than me (likely), then please give me a hint in the comments below!

In Alan's own words

I have a submission for Cassette 2023, attached.

A long and rich backstory to this, like with all successful franchises. I made this for my niece who had learned about a mole named Marvin from a friend.  He had his own song (the rudimentary tune in the game) and this would be sung incessantly.  My niece forgot the mole's name at one point so it became a repeating series of mole verses, each with the first consonant changed.  I shouldn't need to point out that this is HILARIOUS to a 5-year old. This lasted the whole car journey and continued long after I had dropped her off (my brother expressed his thanks for this). So on that car journey home, the cast were created.  

This year I wanted to make something for her birthday that I could send to Australia and since I'd never finished a game concept on the Speccy, it seemed like a good idea. Little did I know it would be a GREAT idea and become the launchpad for starting a new career in one of the major software houses. Ocean are calling, I must go now...


Final thoughts

Marvin has a GREAT backstory explaining his creation, that is wonderful. I feel terrible now for every bad word of this review. 

I think Marvin the Mole - Episode 1 could work with the following fixes:

  • More moles - maybe 15 to 20
  • All visible.
  • None random.
  • Actual pre defined levels with a secret know solution
  • A score based on how close to the model answer you were.
At is is Marvin is a very likable crap game with an interesting concept, smooth movement and nice UDGs. It is well made but also crap due to flaws in game design. It could have sat nicely on the original Cassette 50, making perfect for this comp!

Play it here.

*But more on this... It appears that a mole can spawn in the same location as an existing mole, when this happens there is the possibility of an invisible mole! (Updated 7/8/23)