Mr. DRILLER DrillLand
Developer: INFINITY Co
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment
Genre: Action, Puzzler, Arcade
Platform: PC / Steam
Audience: PEGI 3
Release Date: 24/06/2020
A code was provided for review purposes.
Stop by the Drill Land amusement park where virtual thrills are themed with virtual drills. Namco’s classic arcade puzzler Mr. Driller returns in style with an HD remaster of 2002’s Mr. DRILLER DrillLand. If you’ve never heard of it, there’s good reason; this GameCube release never arrived on Western shores, until now.
The Mr. Driller franchise has been steadily trucking along outside of the mainstream periphery, but there’s a good reason why it endures. The simple to pick up and play arcade-style of frantic gameplay also has a fun aesthetic giving off waves of boundless energy. This has never been more apparent than in the latest entry. Let’s dig in.
Without pausing for a moment’s rest, Mr. DRILLER DrillLand thrusts players straight into a candy-coated fever dream of quirky Japanese pop and gag-manga style humour. An animated intro and some delightfully catchy tunes accompany the sensory overload of the introductory parts, as series lead Susumu Hori and his off-beat buddies plough through.
The user interface pops, and tutorial screens are richly loaded with bits of information, all carrying the same cutesy thematic vigour. It’s a lot to take in but in the best possible way.
Having navigated to the game proper then, I was welcomed with a map of Drill Land, a theme park filled with mini-game variants of classic Mr. Driller gameplay and other extras.
While each section carries its own theme, the differences in the core experience are often negligible. But first, some context.
Mr. Driller is a puzzle game at heart. Your aim to dig to the bottom of the screen by removing blocks in your path. Blocks are coloured and, as a general rule, when four blocks or more of the same colour are linked, they disappear together when drilled. Once blocks above those remove drop, they can cause a chain reaction, breaking down surrounding blocks. What makes Mr. Driller stand out from similar games is the pacing.
To up the challenge, Susumu and pals have a limited oxygen supply, which effectively acts like a health meter, a function that serves to add urgency. Each time you drill, you’ll lose some oxygen and, with your limited supply visibly draining away, you’re forced to plan your drilling route to ensure extra oxygen and other power-ups can be collected along the way.
With the threat of blocks dropping on top of you after unexpectedly long chain reactions, the oxygen tank depleting and enemies to get in your way, each run can feel panic-inducing and disorderly while simultaneously feeling like you’ve taken a hefty dose of laughing gas.
May The RNG Gods Have Mercy On You
The very nature of the action-puzzle genre lends itself to repetition and, with it, the RNG element of chance. Given the game’s speed, it never really felt that my choices were going to have a huge impact on how each run turned out. Admittedly, to stop and survey surroundings more carefully could alleviate this problem but honestly to do so would ruin Mr. Driller’s biggest draw: the chaos.
As pleased as I was to be able to blast through blocks while being treated to the popping visuals, endearing music, effects and short voice clips, the gameplay itself struggled to keep up in certain stages, owing to some being more dynamic than others.
To combat the similarities in levels, the rules are changed between attractions. My favourite of which is undoubtedly The Hole of Druaga. This mode adds an element of basic exploration and a boss fight where players reliant on the power-ups collected through the rest of the run. In order to initiate the boss fight, you must move between levels by using side-paths or a warp ability, find the sub-boss, nab the key, then locate and unlock the boss door. It’s a more involved way to play and definitely resulted in the most fun experiences.
There are others, such as Drill World; where levels represent different countries, Star Driller; a space-themed section, Drindy Adventure; an Aztec explorer-inspired level where you’re required to collect treasure and avoid boulders and the thematically self-explanatory Horror Night House; an interesting take where players must turn ghosts into drystals (crystal-like drops) using holy water. There’s even a bizarre parade in which you can manipulate the tempo of the music and movement of the floats, though it’s very much a one-time affair.
Full Of Holes
Completing levels unlocks light-hearted cutscenes, occasionally outliving their stay (mostly due to having to wait for an animation to finish before skipping to the next line) but mostly adding to the charm. Jokes are always obvious or visual in nature but are in lockstep with kid-friendly comedy anime, and I never found them annoying, if only occasionally humorous. Younger audiences are likely to be delighted if they’re in-tune with this brand of Japanese comedy.
Moving on to PC settings and it’s as barebones as they come with little more than the resolution to tinker. That said, Mr. DRILLER DrillLand is not a demanding game, making nothing more than a small blip on GPU usage statistics and running flawlessly throughout.
All-in-all there’s limited longevity given some rides outdo others. It’s like visiting a theme park to use the world’s fastest rollercoaster but then being forced to go on the Cbeebies rides to keep your little cousin happy. It might still be charming, but the excitement’s all gone. That said, there’s nothing to stop you queuing back up and having another go on the best attractions.