Mr Drller Drill Spirits
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco
Release Date: Out Now (Japan)
Players: 1-5 link
Words By:

I first played Mr. Driller back on the Dreamcast in 2000. It had a cute character to play as, colourful graphics, and addictive gameplay... but it lacked variation, and tended to only get played in short bursts. Fast-forward to 2004, and we finally see the release of another game in the series outside of Japan. There have been several titles in the series, and from the ones I've played, this seems to be the best one yet. I apologise in advance for the length of this review, but it's due to the fact that Mr. Driller: DS is almost like four different games, and each mode deserves a couple of paragraphs to describe them.

In Mr. Driller, levels are made up of six or so different types of block to drill, and when you destroy one that is connected to others of the same colour, it will remove all of them allowing you to clear a big path quickly. Drilling can create loose blocks which can fall and crush you, but if they pass another that is the same colour on the way down, they will stick together. When four or more join up like this, they will all be destroyed, and can set off big chain reactions. The basics of the game are the same as other games in the series, but probably the best addition is the simple yet effective dual screen usage. In the other games, you would often find yourself crushed by blocks falling from above the top of the screen without warning, but now you're able to see what's going on above you, making the game a lot less frustrating; if you're crushed now, it's usually your own fault.

Not only do you have to watch out for falling blocks, but you have a limited air supply. Drilling in itself uses up air, which is one reason to try and set off risky chain reactions. There are oxygen tanks scattered around the levels which will give you some air back, but once you get deeper in they not only become more scarce, they start getting surrounded by [X] blocks. These blocks take longer to drill through, but will also use up the same amount of oxygen you'll get back, making it rather pointless to drill through one to get the tank, so to get the air you really need to cause four or more to hit each other.

Now onto the different gameplay modes; "Mission Driller" is the most basic, and sees you trying to reach certain target depths. Initially it's just 300m of random blocks, but soon enough you'll be trying to reach 2000m.In some of the later levels boulders are introduced, which won't "stick" to other blocks as they fall, and then [?] blocks are added, which can have one of 12 different effects. Six of which are good, such as increasing your max oxygen tank capacity by 10, and six of which are bad, with effects like replacing one colour for about 20m with [X] blocks.

Completing some of these levels will unlock new characters to play as. There are five characters to unlock (and possibly another hidden one); each of which have different oxygen consumption levels, and a special ability or two. Puchi is able to climb two blocks up, for example, making it easier to avoid having to drill through some [X] blocks, and Horinger-Z (being a robot) can take two knocks to the head before dying, instead of one.

Pressure mode has you drilling to avoid some giant drilling robot, intent on crushing you. The mode really lives up to its name; not only are you watching your air, you have to keep drilling as fast as you can to avoid this big drill, and collect power-ups to shoot at it. You can collect as many as three of these at any one time, however once you hit it, even if you have two shots left, they're reset to zero. There's no depth limit on these levels, but as you get further down, the drill above will speed up, and with each new level it gets more and more health. Not only that, but the reason the flower pops out is to spew out bricks to block your path. Initially it's just crystal blocks that shatter when you get close, it then becomes solid blocks that are easy to drill through, but will often appear at just the place to stop a big chain reaction, and then as you get even deeper and do more damage, it starts spewing out [X] blocks everywhere, which will have you going sideways as much as you are going down to try and avoid them.

Then there's time attack mode, which has set level designs, each with a tight time limit to beat. There's no oxygen to worry about here, only beating the clock. There are items that will take a second or two off your time, and you really need to get them to beat the level. For example, there are a few levels that take about 30 seconds to drill down to the goal (usually 100m) but the time you need to beat is half that. To do this, you have to find out the best route down, and collect as many of these items as you can. Some of the later levels are quite interesting; they're filled with steel (impenetrable) blocks, blocks that will rotate the screen, blocks that will change some to crystal ones, and others that flip a section of the level above your head, sending it crashing down around you (however, it's necessary to use this to progress).

In this Japanese version, there is a fourth mode called "Dori-Stone Mode." This changes the pace of the game considerably, and makes you think more about what you're doing. You still have a limited oxygen supply in this mode, but it will only go down when you drill. Oxygen tanks are much scarcer here, so you really have to think about how you're going to make it down to the next one by trying to get as many blocks destroyed for each one you drill away. There are also dori-stones to collect, some of which are visible and others hidden in clusters of blocks. There are four different colours; blue, red, yellow and green, each with different effects. When you collect one it's not used immediately, it's added to a list so you can use it when you want to.

Blue dori-stones will change one colour of block to another type for the next 20m or so, for example if you use one it could change all green blocks into blue ones, so along with the existing blue ones in that part of the level, you should be able to take out lots at once.

Red dori-stones remove all of one type of block for up to 20m, so you could use one that removes all [X] blocks, making it easier to get past. And as you are removing a lot of blocks, it will often start off big chain reactions.

Yellow dori-stones give you certain effects with a limited amount of usage. Some will give you a shield that will protect you from being crushed once, others will let you run faster, making it easier to avoid falling blocks, and so on.

Green dori-stones give you oxygen, but unlike the regular tanks, you're able to use them whenever you need them, so you can save them for later, if you don't need them right then.

This mode is probably my favourite, however it replaces the top screen with a list of all the dori-stones you currently have, meaning that you will sometimes be crushed by a block falling from above the area you can see (the problem that has plagued all previous games in the series).

Having all these different modes in the game is great, because once you get tired of one, you can just switch over to another, and it plays differently enough to keep your interest. When you get bored of that, you can just switch over to another, making it a very addictive game.

Not only is it addictive though, it's hard. You might find that you can't progress too far at the start, but Namco have thought of a way around this too. As you drill, you get a point for each 1m depth, and bonus points for finishing the level. These points allow you to buy power-ups from the store, which range from protective bubbles to extra lives, and extra speed. You can't score as many points when using these though, so you might use these to unlock new levels and characters, then go back to the levels with the new characters and beat them without resorting to using extra lives etc. This not only gives you a nice list of things to unlock, but it means that even if you can't beat a level, you're still progressing somewhere in the game.

Graphically it doesn't exactly push the system, but it's nice and colourful, and full of great 2D artwork. Sound effects are basic, but the music is excellent, with some really catchy tunes that change as you progress deeper into the levels. The game does offer touch screen control for movement, but it's not even worth trying; stick to the d-pad if you're going to be playing it. Remember, just because the DS has a touch screen, doesn't mean every game has to use it.

Overall Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits is a great handheld title with lots of variation to keep you coming back for more, is great for long or short periods of playing time, and something I would highly recommend.


Best Bits

- Plenty of variation.
- The dual screens used to good effect.
Worst Bits

- Dori-stone mode is only available in the Japanese version currently.


by: Andrewfee

Copyright © Gamecell 2005