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Mr. Driller
Review By: J. Michael Neal
 
Developer:  Namco
Publisher:  Namco
# Of Players:  1
Genre:  Puzzle
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  7-30-03

Why canít Mr. Driller get any respect? Itís one of the best puzzle games around, yet few will admit to it. Even our own site gave it a mediocre review! The injustice! In my opinion, not only does Mr. Driller stomp games like Tetris and Columns into the ground, but it even gives the sainted Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo a run for itís money. You heard me. Spend a few minutes with the Drill-meister and not only will you agree that it has far superior gameplay, but at 1/4th the cost of Puzzle Fighter, it is a far better purchase. Maybe three years ago this was a mediocre title, but not now. Unlike most games, whose scores only lower with age, Mr. Driller proved to be a true buried treasure. It survived the test of time to emerge in this next gen puzzle drought as a no-brains purchase for any fan of the genre that missed it the first time around.

To start off, Mr. Driller has the kind of charm you hate to love. The main character is cute in that pink, fuzzy, anime kind of cute only the Japanese can get away with, and everything is pastel and pretty. Itís the kind of game your girl friend or little niece will just eat up but you canít admit to liking, becauseÖ you knowÖ guys donít dig ďcuteĒ. However, we both know you were a Mr. Driller fan from the moment you heard the Japanese announcer girls yell ďNAM-A-CO!Ē in their high-pitched, pre-pubescent voices, and itís just between you and me that by the time they announced ďMITA DRELLA!Ē you were ready to get the little guy tattooed on a ďspecial placeĒ. But, you know, ďGuy CodeĒ and all. Weíll just keep it to ourselves.

The charm of the game doesnít end with the visuals, however. The audio is equally cotton candy-sweet, filled with the kind of cutesy voices and catchy 8-bit music thatíll run through your head for days and days and days and pester you while youíre trying to sleep. You know, the kind of stuff youíll find yourself whistling without fully realizing where it came from. While some may see this as a bad thing, itís all part of the addiction. Itís just one more step in how Mr. Driller burrows himself inside your head and colonizes your brain. By the time you start dreaming of falling blocks and air capsules, itís already too late - youíve become a life-long addict of Mr. Drillerís strangely familiar yet one-of-a-kind gameplay.

Itís hard to describe what Mr. Driller plays like. At its core, itís a falling block puzzle game, but it has a depth that even Puzzle Fighter, a good but limited Columns/Puyo Puyo clone, lacks. Itís the kind of game you have to experience for yourself to really understand, but before youíll do that youíll have to hear an explanation, so here goes Ė imagine a Tetris screen all filled up with blocks; now imagine a little man that has to dig his way from top to bottom without getting crushed or running out of oxygen. Sound simple? Itís not. Itís deceptively deep and incredibly addictive, in fact. See, while at first youíll be concerned with simply collecting oxygen capsules and digging straight to the bottom, after a while youíll realize the key is setting up chain reactions. This involves as much forethought as it does quick reflexes however, as our asphyxia-battling hero must frantically weave in and out of falling blocks while at the same time carefully planning his next move. Itís the kind of game that invites players to beat their personal bests while ever perfecting strategies; the kind of game you can play forever without fully tapping. Thereís always more to learn. Youíll always pick up a little something for the next time you play that will help you better identify the kind of pattern to use to construct yourself a set of stairs to reach a capsule stranded high above you, or better build a little bunker to protect yourself from falling blocks with. Thatís the kind of gameplay that gives titles like Tony Hawkís Pro Skater 3 and Ikaruga their longevity, the kind that is becoming harder and harder to find in this day and age.

Sadly, personal bests are the only opponents youíll face, aside from the crushing and the suffocation, as this game is single player only. This is about the only real problem with the game, a problem corrected in the must-have imports Mr. Driller 2 and Mr. Driller Ace for the GBA. At the current $9.90 clearance price of Amazon, however, Arcade, Survival, and Time Attack modes will hold you just fine, especially given the utter lack of worthy puzzle games youíll find on the PS2.

That leads us, in a roundabout way, to a problem not with the game but of the game that is horribly frustrating. Because this game obviously sold so poorly when it was released, Namco has no incentive to make future titles available to the States. Japan has already seen a follow-up on the PlayStation, two on the GBA, and one on the GameCube, yet no plans have been made to ever release any of these games to Western audiences. One can only assume this policy will continue indefinitely and extend to any future releases. So whatíll happen is youíll get hooked on this game like Kelsey Grammar at a coke party, but will be unable to properly nurture your addiction without delving into the world of imports. One can only hope that an unprecedented surge in sales, or the constant out crying of fellow addicts, will soften Namcoís heart towards giving this franchise a second chance in North America. So get the word out Ė we need more Driller. Not only do we need more of his gameplay, we desperately need more puzzle games that donít suck.

So, thank God for backwards compatibility, right? Digging Intelligent Cube and Devil Dice out the mothballs is about as close as you can get to some quality puzzle games in the era of endless cut-scenes. If you missed those the first time around, however, youíre screwed, as theyíll cost you an arm and a leg now, as well as some serious searching. All you can do, in between counting down the seconds until Bombastic is released, is hunt up games like Mr. Driller. Trust me, itíll be a sight for sore-eyes Ė an addictive, entertaining puzzle game that breathes some life into the rather stale falling block format, all for $10! You canít beat that with a stick! Unless you really think that soiled, .99 c copy of Fantavision will really bring you happiness.

HIGHS:

  • Addictive as a box of nicotine-laced Kristy Kremes.
  • Kicks the crap out of other falling block games.
  • Has that weird, cute charm only the Japanese can spawn.
  • Songs will stick in your head, possibly forever.
  • HmmmÖ cheap.

LOWS:

  • No multiplayer.
  • Songs will stick in your head, possibly forever, driving you insane until you end up rocking back and forth in the corner of a rubber room screaming about running out of oxygen before you break 5000 feet.
  • The only Mr. Driller that will ever see the light of day in the States?

FINAL VERDICT:

If Tetris Worlds and Bust-a-Move 7,779 has you about ready for something new, or at least something new to you, please, for the love of God, give this game a chance! At $10 you will not be disappointed. Itís addictive as crack at half the price, and maybe if Namco sees enough people buying it out the bargain bins, they wonít hesitate to release future Mr. Driller titles stateside.

Overall Score: 9.0

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