You know why Nintendo doesn’t do backwards compatibility with most of its systems? Because they know that people will buy the game again if they really want to play it, and that there’s always room for improvement. Now, people may not always love the upgrades that came along with new ports of games, but Mario Kart 8 Deluxe having all the DLC included was sweet, Funky Mode in Tropical Freeze was fun as hell, and the crown mushroom that turned Toadette into Peach unleashed all sorts of untold horrors onto the world. But also, sometimes games just didn’t get the love and attention they needed before, and now is a brand new opportunity. Mr. Driller is a franchise that I love to death due to simple approach, cute characters and never ending gameplay. I put hours upon hours into Mr. Driller both on the Dreamcast and in the physical arcade, and there’s something almost relaxing about getting into the flow of it all. I didn’t know about the Mr. Driller game for Gamecube until I moved to Japan years after its release, and, at that point, the Gamecube was dead and gone in favour of the might that was the Wii. Players around the world have gotten a second chance, however, with the brand new, remastered release of Mr. Driller DrillLand, and it was certainly worth taking a second look.
For those unaware, Mr. Driller is a series of action puzzle games where you usually play Susumu, the little dude in the pink getup with a drill for a hand. Your objective is to navigate your way downward through different terrains and blocks, trying to both dig a path without getting crushed, but also without running out of air, which is in capsules sprinkled throughout the level. Along the way, there are blocks that use up a lot of air to break, match 4 style rules that cause blocks to disappear when meeting up enough of the same coloured blocks, and general mayhem as you attempt to outrun the collapsing world above you. Susumu, over the years, has been joined by a whole cavalcade of other drillers, including a dog named Puchi, who can jump really high, a robot named Holinger-Z who can get crushed once without dying, and Susumu’s dad, Taizo, who was actually Dig Dug in a previous life. As a Namco brand, there’s plenty of winks and nods to other franchises within Mr. Driller, but Mr. Driller tends to be more organic and self-contained (though you can always keep an eye out for Easter Eggs hidden throughout).
With Mr. Driller DrillLand, a suspicious theme park that’s exclusively underground has opened up, and Susumu’s gang of drillers has been invited for the opening day. Unbeknownst to them, this is actually an evil plot by the bumbling antagonist group, the Dark Drillers, and Dr. Manhole, the Wily of this whole establishment. I mean, the plot is kind of important, but not really, because the “story mode” of the game is wrapped up in 30 minutes or less, depending on your drilling prowess. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but it was basically a silly bit of exposition to have you try each of the different game modes once and also for the voice actors/actresses to do something scripted that was more than random phrases and sound effects. After you play through each of the game modes once, you basically unlock the full experience to be played as you’d like…on a set difficulty.
Players should know that Mr. Driller DrillLand offers up both Casual and Classic difficulty from the beginning, with the big difference being that Casual makes the blocks a bit slower in their descent and a tad longer before they start falling, meaning that manoeuvrability is more forgiving. While this is incentive is great to get people on board (and makes the story mode, go super fast), you don’t actually unlock anything for the second difficulty, which means you’ll have to play the game through in its entirety if you want to check out the different levels of play on the other side of things. It’s a small but important separation that irked me slightly. I mean, sure, Namco didn’t want players unlocking everything in Classic and then beating ass in Casual leaderboards, but why even make it two separate game modes? I think it should have been a toggle, like the way you’re able to shift the difficulty levels in most SRPGs while you play. But there was probably a lot of logic in this decision that I don’t understand and shouldn’t pretend I know better about, so let’s let that lie.
When it comes to the main gameplay, DrillLand has seven stations to stop by, with five of them having games and the other two being filler. If you go to Drill Town, the souvenir stand, you have your choice of buying random trading card packs (which can unlock some fun pictures and such), collectibles (which you can…look at in a submenu) or item boosts for specific other game worlds. Doing these boosts actually counts towards finishing the story mode and getting your stamps for the stamp rally of the entire game, but it doesn’t record your score, for obvious reasons. The item boosts include starting with different status effects activated, like mini driller (easier to dodge falling blocks) or a bubble shield (single crush death prevention). If you buy the right trading card pack, you can unlock another collectible, so if you’re a completionist please keep that in mind. All of these items are basically to help you grind replayability, as finishing game rounds gives you a certain amount of in-game currency to buy these toys. They’re cute, and worthwhile if you really want to fully accomplish this game, but it’s by no means necessary.
As for the game modes, Mr. Driller DrillLand does a bang up job of having some good variety. World Tour is a classic Mr. Driller mode that gradually unlocks more levels to have an endless stage where you compete against other players. This is the main stomping ground for longtime Mr. Driller fans, as you can choose any of the different drillers to use as your character and, as such, allow the arcade effect to take a full hold. If nothing else, players who enjoyed the classic Mr. Driller games should be spending a lot of time here, both in solo and competitive mode, because it’s the purest form of the game AND it runs spectacularly on the Switch.
Star Driller (which takes heavy inspiration from the spinoff game, Star Trigon) is Mr. Driller in space with a focus on collecting air and drilling, so just like the basic gameplay. However, there are a lot of random effects thrown in to keep in mind. Meteors will occasionally crash into the screen, destroying bricks and possibly triggering avalanches. Star blocks exist for a moment before winking out of existence, causing mayhem all about. Question mark blocks contain power-ups of all sorts, including full screen detonation and super speed. An eclipsing sun will plunge you into semi-darkness, making navigation more difficult. While it’s not the most innovative take on the game, it’s still a damn fun time, and players will have a lot of enjoyable, chaotic moments in Star Driller. It’s basically classic mode with all items turned on: have a blast!
Drindy Adventure puts you in Taizo’s shoes and forces you to drill through several levels of jungle maze to collect golden statues, giving this a distinctly Indiana Jones feeling. Not only are the idols necessary to win (you need a certain number in order to “beat” the game), they are often protected by traps, like spikes that stab you if you stay still too long or rolling boulders that’ll follow you much, much further than you thought. This is where the gameplay starts to deviate more, asking players to make both fast and decisive decisions to stay alive, and it’s still got an air of excitement while changing up the approach. Air isn’t a problem, but dying is, and you only have a few lives to successfully make it to the bottom. My advice: don’t get greedy. Once you hit the number of required statues, make your way to the exit. There are too many ways for Taizo to get killed to risk being an overachieving treasure hunter who then leaves a pretty corpse.
Horror Night House, which puts you in bad boy Ataru’s shoes, felt like it should have been more challenging, but it wasn’t. The objective is to collect gems, which you get from beating ghosts. You beat the ghosts by getting holy water and then using it on the blocks where the ghosts are hiding. In theory, the ghosts move and will automatically possess you if you drill into a block where they are and don’t have the holy water activated, draining your HP and leading to your defeat. However, the holy water doesn’t affect one block: it affects like eight block sets directly around wherever you splash the holy water. This means you can usually hit two ghosts at once if you wait, and then drilling before the water wears off and getting the jewel. Plus, the diamonds that regenerate HP crop up constantly, and Ataru is naturally faster than Susumu, so I just don’t know about the overall effect. It was fun, but it was a lot less challenging or engaging than the other modes.
Lastly, Namco’s big homage, The Hole of Druaga, which references the classic NES game, Tower of Druaga. In this one, you’re Anna (the only girl driller who isn’t a baddie), and you need to rescue princess Susumu, because it’s hilarious. The whole thing takes a lot to do, and I needed to get frustrated several times before I understood. So you need to drill to find a key, then find the gate, then unlock the gate to face Druaga. This is already weird because there is at least one dead end where you find NOTHING, so you need to grab the warp crystal at the bottom to go back to the top (but only the right top) and try again. The map is branching and strangely unlabelled, so players who aren’t paying attention will repeat their mistakes. You need to look for the doors to go left or right on to whole new areas so you can explore and find the items necessary. You need to pick up crystals constantly to survive, because you use up one HP per drill and potions are few and far between. The crystals all do different things, like change block colour and destroy blocks, and you need those destruction crystals because they damage Druaga when you finally find him, but only if Druaga is currently floating on the same colour of the block that the crystal destroys. It’s wild: every other drill game is rooted in drilling, and this one is basically a deck building odyssey where the whole thing goes to crap if you get turned around or confused. That’s not even mentioning the random enemies that find bold new ways to attack you. I didn’t like this mode at all.
There is one more thing in DrillLand, and that’s the parade. You can…watch a parade. That’s all. It’s not even a credits sequence, it’s literally a couple of minutes of watching the game’s characters put on a Disney-inspired parade in different Namco IP costumes until it’s done, then you go back to the main menu. It’s not an offensive or necessary thing, but it’s just so bizarre to stick in the game and I haven’t fully figured out if I love it or hate it. It’s cute, but what the heck does it even do? I’m gonna watch it seven more times to see if it unlocks something.
Parade aside, Mr. Driller DrillLand looks amazing on the Nintendo Switch. It plays smooth as butter, there’s no problems even with fast moving blocks and multiple drillers on screen, and it’s got that pick-up-and-play mentality that makes it even more enjoyable on a portable console. The HD graphics look so bright and colourful and crisp, and you’ve got this delightful soundtrack that reminds me why Namco became such a big name before most of us even had our first home systems. I love the way that Mr. Driller plays, and I’m enamoured to finally have a way to play it on my newest system, as the last time I had a Mr. Driller was I think my DS. My recommendation: find some friends to play with, ignore the hell out of Druaga, and go dig some holes: it’s a great way to spend any day.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Mr. Driller Drillland Review
Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 9/10
User Review( votes)
The adorable mascot of Namco returns to bring one of the most eclectic game packages to the West for the first time, fully remastered and fantastic.