Many people are familiar with the concept of Mr. Driller, but in case you’ve missed out here’s a quick recap: ‘The town is being overrun by colored blocks! Everyone is in a panic! Quick, call Mr. Driller!’ You, as Mr Driller, have to drill downwards through a pit full of coloured blocks to reach the goal. Drilling a block will make it and all like-coloured adjacent blocks disappear. Anything that was on top of those blocks will fall. You lose a life if you’re crushed by a falling block, or if you run out of air. Collecting oxygen capsules replenishes your air meter. The controls are left, right, down, and drill. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.
The result is a game that is refreshingly original yet as familiar as Tetris; a pure, even hardcore gaming experience yet can be picked up and played by people who’ve never played a game in their lifel. The pace is frantic and never lets up, never gives you a breather until you die or reach the goal, and yet promotes a cautious, almost puzzle-game like style of playing. Like the best arcade games, it has an unlimited lifespan.
In short, Mr Driller is ACE. So Mr Driller Drill Land on the Gamecube is the Holy Grail for Driller fans; a major release on home consoles with unlockables, multiplayer modes, some five separate main game modes and even a bizarre ‘Drill Land Parade’. The storyline of this game appears (to the non-Japanese speaker) suitably ridiculous - a big businessman has opened a theme park called ‘Drill Land’, for Mr Driller and his friends to play in. BUT! It turns out that it’s ACTUALLY A SECRET EVIL FACILITY USED FOR DRILLING TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH! Guess who has to save the world? Go, Driller, go! The Japanese language barrier isn’t a problem at all with this game, as it’s pretty clear what’s going on and what you have to do. In addition to the classic game, Namco have come up with four variations on the Driller theme. You’d think that adding new features to the Mr Driller gameplay would be like bolting robotic arms onto the Venus de Milo so it can bust some fresh body-popping, but the new modes of play are surprisingly quite good.
Firstly, Mr Driller World Tour is classic Mr Driller as we know and love, except 1) you can choose from seven different characters and 2) this time, you’re supposed to be drilling around the world. So, for example, after 100 metres you’re told that you’re now in Mexico and a little animation of a mole bothering a stereotype Mexican appears in the top right corner. This is, of course, the best mode - the rest are simply alternatives rather than improvements to the classic gameplay model.
For example, Hole of Druaga is a Driller-themed remake of the classic Namco game Tower of Druaga. It’s almost a Mr Driller RPG, with turn-based battles, key collecting, an inventory screen, a map, and so on. Drindy Adventure is Mr. Driller, but Indiana Jones. It’s impressive how Namco have managed to recreate the excitement of the Indiana Jones films, using such devices as rolling boulders and spike traps. The other available modes provide equal amounts of varied and entertaining new concepts, and are a delight to discover.
A new addition to the series is the mulitplayer mode, something that players have been crying out for since the original. There are two multiplayer games included – race and battle. Race is a lot of fun with four players, as each player frantically tries to drill to the 500m line the fastest. Picking up powerups will either help you or hinder the other players, and causes much competitiveness and beery cursing. The only problem with race mode - and you can look at this as either a flaw or a hilarious bonus - is that the last player to cross the finish line doesn’t get disqualified. So if there’s one slow player, he or she is forced to finish, even if they are only at 175 metres when everyone else has finished long ago and is laughing at them. Battle mode, however, is awful - the screen is full of blocks and the first player to pop the block with the key inside wins. There's no skill or point to it as the winner is effectively decided by luck, and it’s a wasted opportunity for what could have been an essential party game.
Visually, the game has greatly improved since the arcade original - the overall look has been greatly refined. The menu and intro screens encapsulate everything you love about bubblegummy Japanese graphic design, and there are some interesting stylistic choices here and there. The 3D ‘goods’ are very visually satisfying too – items such as balloons, postcards and food can be unlocked and viewed in a gallery (however, it does make you think about eating a bit too much, when really you should be thinking about playing the game). The character designs in the introductory cartoons are very appealing, showing a heavy Tezuka influence. Inside the game, however, the line-drawn characters may be a bit jarring to players used to the fully-shaded Driller of the Dreamcast and arcade versions - they don’t seem to suit the style the blocks and items are rendered in. You quickly get used to it, though, and it’s only a minor niggle.
Besides that, the design style and animation really works. For example, the animated intro sequence, complete with anime-style theme song, will have you jumping up and down and giggling like a little girl. In fact all the music in Drill Land is incredible, like a Zappa-esque cartoon for the ears. Each track is fully orchestrated, and ranges from the John Williams-styled theme for ‘Star Driller’ to the bubbly J-Pop-tinged jazz music on the main menu. A lot of love has obviously gone into the creation of this game’s soundtrack, which could be considered a unique selling point in itself. If you lose your job or George Bush blows the world up, you can listen to the theme from Drill Land World Tour and everything will be ok again. It’s beautiful.
It’s a shame, then, that the in-game voices are a bit grating. The voice actors themselves aren’t the problem, just one particular usage of them- i.e. the way Driller-san and friends say ‘Lucky!’ (or in the case of the dog, ‘Lucky-wan!’) every time you pick up an oxygen capsule. This would be like Mario saying ‘Mama Mia!!’ every time he collected a coin. Or jumped. It’s plausible that having the characters spout the word ‘Lucky!’ every five seconds is quite cool to the Japanese, because they don’t understand the context. To us, though, it’s retarded, just like when Daisy says ‘Hi, I’m Daisy!’ halfway through a race in Mario Kart: DD. Yeah, hi, Daisy. Shut up and watch the road, you dizzy bitch.
Mr Driller Drill Land, then, is a fun and incredibly playable title, and a welcome addition to the series – perhaps even the definitive version of the game. Due to the polished, original and appealing sound and visuals, not to mention awesome characters, it’s sure to attract a sizable cult following, even if a lot of gamers will be turned off by the cuteness and apparent simplicity. If you’re one of the devoted few, though, Drill Land will be your friend for life.
Text by James Harvey