Arcade royalty Namco were in a golden era at the turn of the century. With the success of Time Crisis, Point Blank, Ridge Racer, along with critically acclaimed Soulcalibur, it appeared as though Namco could do no wrong. Luckily for home console owners many of these great arcade titles found their way to our living rooms. The same arcade port treatment was given to a lesser known title from this factory line of arcade hits, Mr. Driller.
Mr. Driller is an action puzzle game released for the Namco System 12 arcade board in 1999. A spiritual successor to Dig-Dug, it was originally intended to be the third entry in the classic series. It was later ported to the Dreamcast, PlayStation, Game Boy Colour and WonderSwan between 2000 and 2001. We take a look at the Dreamcast port for this review.
The thumping intro to Mr. Driller explains the story. By story I mean back of a fag packet one liner. Random colourful blocks have started descending on Downtown and Susumu Hori, the titular “Mr. Driller”, must dig down to the city’s core to eradicate them. To be honest the story is completely pointless as this game is all about high scores and twitchy arcade gameplay.
Several game modes are available to select ranging from classic arcade to challenge. They all feature the same mechanic to use your drill to blast away blocks to reach the bottom of the screen. It sounds simple but as you chip away at the Lego-looking blocks the ones left above will start to fall down with you. Picking the best route becomes vital as you reach further into the levels. If you take out the wrong section you may find yourself squashed from above and with only a few lives on offer you could be seeing the game over screen quickly.
Timing plays a factor as well as reflexes, you might need to purposefully create an avalanche of blocks to clear the way and side step at the right time to avoid trouble. The great gameplay mechanic is the lack of a jump button, you can only move downwards, left, right or up one block as if mimicking a staircase. This adds layers of strategy that would be lost if you were able to jump.
It is not just the threat of being squashed that puts Mr. Driller in danger. He also has an air supply that drains as you move further downwards. You can replenish this by picking up air containers strewn throughout the level. It creates a wonderful risk versus reward situation that pulls you between sinking deeper or moving across to find air. All with the constant threat of becoming a Mr. Driller sandwich between blocks.
Gameplay is fast-paced and frantic, it will take a little while to get into the flow of how Mr. Driller moves, digs and loses air. But this is a classic arcade experience that is designed to munch your ten pences and get you coming back to make improvements on your score. Controls are slick and you can even use the Dreamcast’s microphone to control our hero. This leads to hilarious fun as you find yourself shouting ‘dig, dig, dig’ during some of the more frenetic moments.
Visually Mr. Driller is bold, bright and filled with pixel goodness. The style suits the Dreamcast’s Naomi architecture well although some may find the colours garish at times. Sprites are superbly animated and the little details bring the world of Downtown to life. Designer, Yasuhito Nagaoka, clearly wanted to create a world reminiscent of the arcade action games of the 80’s and 90’s and Mr. Driller is a feast for pixel art fans. The only criticism is the lack of diversity in the scenery. There are bland sections and the appeal of the basic colour palette may wear off after a few plays.
A techno soundtrack accompanies proceedings that gets your heart racing and matches the fast gameplay. The opening intro music is excellent but the remaining tunes are a little lacklustre with little variety. This is disappointing given how decent the rest of the games presentation is. Sound effects are good enough with the usual bumps and squeaks you would expect from a game of this type.
Mr. Driller has enough content to keep you going for some time as well. The main arcade mode is a real score busting endeavour that keeps you coming back again to improve. The added challenge mode mixes up the gameplay a little adding timed runs to smaller sections. The survival mode is quite epic as you race against your air supply trying to dig as deep as possible before eventually succumbing to the depths.
This is a challenging title that will suit casual players looking for a quick blast and veterans looking for high scores. It can be infuriating at times but this is usually down to a lack of experience as the game mechanics are fair. With practice you start spotting patterns to look out for to avoid certain death and score maximum points.
Overall Mr. Driller is the ideal pick up and play title for arcade junkies and puzzle fans. The easy to learn gameplay is difficult to master and there is enough here to keep you coming back for more once the initial arcade mode wears thin.