Itís a fact of life that heavy machinery and power tools fascinate kids of all ages. Dumper trucks, JCB diggers and circular saws are all sources of inspiring awe and symbolise raw constructive (or in the wrong hands, destructive) power. However, one item that is relegated to the back of the queue for adulation is the humble drill. There arenít many drill fetishists out there, but those who are more than partial to a Black and Decker power tool will certainly go nuts over Screwbreaker.
Created by Gamefreak, better known for their involvement with Nintendoís Pokemon series, Screwbreaker Go-shin Drillero (to be retitled Drill Dozer in the west) is their attempt at to break away from that zany collection of animals who feel the need to communicate solely by repeating their own name and live inside impossibly small spheres.
Just a word of warning here - as if the gameís title wasnít enough to make you giggle at the veiled double entendre of it all, this review will make various references to large rotating bits, vibrating, and drilling. Best that any guffawing or tittering is done now and gotten well and truly out of the way.
The game is a colourful, scrolling 2D platformer centring around a team of drilling-obsessed misfits called Red Drill; their preoccupation coming from a wish to use the machinery to get rich quick. Key players in this gang of miscreants are the female lead, Kururi, and her mechanised drilling machine Racenda 8. When one of their prized pieces of booty, the Red Diamond, is stolen in a smash-and-grab raid by their arch-nemesis Toxic Roller, the Red Drill gang decide to up and at Ďem to get it back. Cue the player taking control of Kururi and, in turn, Racenda 8.
Containing the sprite-based charm that has become all but expected from a GameBoy Advance title, the levels are bright and colourful. Players are taken from the dank depths of Toxic Rollerís den during the opening act, through to overgrown Aztec Temples and the corridors of an Art Museum, each portrayed in a vibrant fashion, accompanied by the bouncy music and rugged sound effects.
Even the characters have a lovely styling to them. The charming, oddball cast ranges from Kururiís partners in crime Kanbuu (her bushy eye browed grandfather who offers handy tutelage in play tactics), Minte (driver of Red Drillís transport truck and Racenda 8ís mechanic), through to enemies like the overzealous female security officer and a duo of wizened, submersible-driving women. The gameís wide-eyed characters are formed from a simple, yet colourful palette and look like they wouldnít be amiss in a Japanese cartoon. This influence on their appearance and action is unmistakable, a case in point being Kururiís victory pose when she finds another gear for Racenda 8.
The controls are quite basic, consisting of a jump button and another which lets Kururi stand up in the cockpit of Racenda 8 for a bit of a look around. She can also tuck herself into the main body of the unit and use it to dash a short distance along the floor. The unit itself is equipped with a massive drill bit that can be used to plough through almost anything in the game. The majority of walls, fixtures and blocks scattered throughout the various levels can all be obliterated, although some objects are much tougher than others. While traversing each level Kururi will find drill boxes that contain additional gears for her unit, meaning much more powerful, faster and prolonged drilling. Holding down the L or R buttons commences drilling up to the gears maximum speed. If additional gears have been added during that stage, the player can (if they are quick enough) then switch to a higher, more powerful gear to demolish whatever stands in their way. The gears obtained are not transferred from one level to another, meaning once a level ends and Kururi returns to Red Drillís base of operations, the gear speed is set back to standard and the hunt commences all over again. The Game Pak also features a built-in rumble that simulates the speed and vibration of the drill and, while not necessary, itís certainly a neat touch.
Not all objects can be obliterated into pieces, though. Some metal-coated blocks are indestructible, while others are made of an absorbent jelly-like substance that can be drilled into and then used to catapult Kururi backwards - handy for reaching platforms that are out of normal jumping range. Scattered throughout are different coloured pipes that force her to dive inside Racenda 8 and tunnel her way through; the higher the gearshift, the faster she tunnels. There are also on-rails transport funnels that can be clamped on to with the drill and used to carry her around. Handy repair boxes are also present to help recharge the mechanised unitís energy.
Along with destroying the environment, the drill on Racenda 8 comes in handy for dispatching enemies. Similarly, some are easily dispatched while tougher ones require prolonged drilling or additional gears to destroy them. The large boss characters at the end of each section always require a more tactical approach than just drilling away blindly, with the player needing to exploit a specific weak spot such as a hole or loose bolt in their chassis. Destroying enemies causes them to drop Junk Chips that can be amassed to purchase continues.
Later on Racenda 8 can be upgraded to carry out tasks such as exploring underwater areas. While this adds to the variety of the environments, here the gameís controls become even more limited, with the L and R drill buttons used to propel the unit. This makes it seem excessively clunky and, while this may have been the intention, it can lead to some frustrating momentum-fuelled, object-colliding moments.
Screwbreaker has a heavy emphasis on puzzles with some unique uses for Racenda 8ís oversized bit. During the early stages of the game the Red Drill team find their progress blocked by a huge vault door which has three tumblers. Kururi must first find the mechanisms scattered around the level that turn each tumbler, before wedging in Racenda 8ís drill to turn them left or right in the correct combination. This is one of a number of examples of how the gameís main theme is put to use, ensuring that Screwbreakerís theme is a bit more than a throwaway gimmick. While not overly tricky, the puzzles may present a challenge to those who prefer their platformers without the added puzzle element.
With around 18 levels, Screwbreaker wonít present the greatest of challenges to platform junkies, but it is thoroughly entertaining while it lasts. Each level can replayed at will and the inclusion of around 30 collectable treasures hidden around the various levels means those `gotta collect Ďem all` perfectionists will have a lengthy treasure hunt to keep them occupied. There is also an unlockable code system that allows players to change Kururiís costumes.
Itís clear that Game Freak have put all their efforts into creating something as far removed from a Pokemon title as possible, while still trying to retain the same level of charm and appeal. In this respect, Screwbreaker is a success and a great start off the running block - something that will hopefully be improved and expanded upon.