Reviewed: March 4, 2005
Released: December 7, 2004
Mr. Driller is back, at least for those who remember his humble beginnings on the Dreamcast and PlayStation back in 2000 and the numerous sequels that were sure to follow. Every bit as colorful and addictive as Tetris, and the recently released Zookeeper, Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits is a hardcore puzzle game that requires just a bit more thought and a whole lot more reflexes than those other games.
While this is my first time playing a Mr. Driller game I have always been a huge fan of the Dig Dug games dating back to the original coin-op and all the way up through their various reincarnations on the numerous anthology and compilations discs. Mr. Driller and Dig Dug are very much alike in that their sole purpose is to dig, but unlike Dig Dug, Mr. Driller is on a continual downward mission, burrowing deep into the earth, avoiding dangerous cave-ins and keeping a watchful eye on that air gauge.
The core premise of Mr. Driller is very simple, which is perhaps why it is so much fun. Anyone from five years or older can pick this up out of the box and master the basics in just a few minutes.
You have six driller characters to choose from although all but one is locked when you begin. There are only subtle differences between the characters, but in essence you move your character down and left or right using the D-pad or the touch screen. You can push the A or B button to drill the colored block clearing a path as you drill down to your target depth. You can also jump back up one or two levels (depending on your character).
Moving around requires precise and accurate control and therein lies my singular complaint with this game. The game is actually less playable (read more difficult) using the touch screen than if you simply use the D-pad, in which case the game really doesn’t "need" to be on the DS other than a few nice beneficial nuances of having a dual screen.
Each section of the various levels has several types of blocks. Colored blocks can be drilled through easily while the brown X-Blocks take several attempts to destroy and use up a lot of your air. Crystal blocks will vanish over time causing impromptu collapses and White blocks work just like colored blocks only they don’t stick together when they touch.
As blocks are destroyed or vanish in cascades anything above them will waver then collapse to the next solid section of the level. Along the way any colored blocks that touch matching colors will stick and if matching blocks join up on a secure section of the level they will vanish from the board, possibly starting a new cascade.
Scattered about the levels are numerous canisters of air and you will need to weigh the risk of collecting these versus the remaining air in your tank. Air ticks away about one unit per second and even quicker if you drill certain blocks. In the later levels air will be trapped inside clusters of X-Blocks and you will have to drill through or under them in order to get these canisters.
The dual screen design allows you to see much more of the playing field than would normally be possible on a single-screen system like the GBA, but frankly, I almost never looked beyond the bottom screen. After the first few hundred meters the game pace picks up to a frantic race where you are dodging falling clusters of blocks and maneuvering toward air tanks.
Some levels can be quite exciting when there are only two or three colors of blocks. This creates massive chains of vanishing and falling blocks and you simply ride the avalanche to the bottom, hopefully picking up some air along the way.
Drill Spirits offers four modes for the solo gamer including Mission Driller where you travel the world drilling to certain depths in each location. Not only does the game get harder the deeper you go, but each new locations starts off with more difficult designs, mostly in the location and decreased numbers of air tanks.
Pressure Driller is an interesting mode that will have you casting frantic glances at the top screen as a giant drill descends upon your position. You’ll have to use all your reflexes and drilling skills to stay one step ahead of this monster while collecting charges to power your weapon to fire back up at the giant drill, but only during certain parts of the level. It’s easily the most challenging and probably the most fun mode in the game.
Time Attack Driller is basically the same as the Mission Driller only you must now reach the preset depth within a preset time limit. Yeah – like the game isn’t hard enough already.
The Drill Store isn’t really a mode but more of a cheat system where you can use your drill mileage to purchase equipment that makes the game easier. The only problem here is that if you choose to use any of the equipment you purchased at the store your scores will not be logged. You can also only equip four items at a time.
There is also a multiplayer Driller Race mode for 2-5 players, although each DS owner is required to have their own copy of the game. While we have access to several DS’s around the GCM office we only had one copy of the game, so this mode goes untested for now. Frankly, any DS game that doesn’t offer at least some limited single-cart play is a disappointment. It’s much easier to talk someone into buying a game if they can “sample” it first.
Visually, Mr. Driller is pleasing to the eye with simplistic graphics made up of primary colors in block designs. The actual driller character is pretty much a blob although you can tell which direction he is facing. Air canisters look like Tylenol capsules.
Contrasting the colorful playfield is a menu system that is made up of very few and very simple pastel colors. There is a visual indicator for remaining air as well as digital readouts for depth, score, and air.
Oddly enough, there are some comic panels between the missions that tell a funky story in true anime fashion, complete with quirky characters including a greedy talking dog…WOOF!
The music is standard cheery arcade fare that we’ve heard a million times before in everything from 80’s coin-ops to low-budget shareware titles. It’s no more advanced than anything the GBA could do and starts to get a bit annoying after extended playtime.
The sound effects will dominate the sound experience with plenty of “popping” sounds; almost like balloons popping as each block vanishes. There is also a noticeable warning noise when air starts to get low. Everything is simple yet functional but annoying enough that you will want to play on very low volume.
There is even a bit of speech tossed in with high-pitched shouts during the menus and even some spoken dialog during the cutscenes. It’s pretty simple and intentionally “bad” in a Japanese kind of way.
This game is bloody hard (and no I’m not British – the blood is on my thumbs). It took me about an hour to finish the first 100m mission and another two hours to finish the 300m mission. As of this review I have only gotten to 683m on the 800m mission and am losing my mind trying to master the game. And that only accounts for about 9 hours of the 20+ I have put into the game with all of the other modes.
Drill Spirits ranks right up there will the all-time great addictive games of the decade, only this game is addictive in a way where you get a little bit better (and a little bit deeper) each time you play which only sparks you to keep on trying. If you enjoy puzzles games like Tetris then this one delivers in spades.
Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits is totally fun and totally addicting. It’s easy to pick-up and impossible to put down. I literally played until my battery died and then I plugged in my DS and played some more. Games are relatively short so you can sneak one in just about anytime.
I was a bit disappointed that the game didn’t make better use of the DS features, especially the touch screen, but the dual screen design was put to moderately good use in a few of the modes. The extra characters and challenging game modes will keep you playing Drill Spirits for a long time to come.