Mr. Driller


Review by Dave Giarrusso



Graphics: 8

Sound: 9

Gameplay: 10

Overall: 9

If it were up to me, I’d take a trip back in time to 1980. Why? Lotsa reasons. Great new games were hitting the scene in abundance: Asteroids, Berzerk, Centipede, Tempest, Pac-Man… In 1980, a popular bumper sticker read, “I’ve got Pac-Man fever!!” No death threats, no nihilistic attitude, no bootleg Calvin pissing on everything since the dawn of time, just a simple exclamation: “I’ve got Pac-Man fever!!” In 1980 an angry driver would merely inform you that he or she had Pac-Man fever before flipping you the bird and honking the horn while cruising our nation’s highways.

mrdriller1ps1.jpg (64084 bytes)In the year 2000, a popular bumper sticker reads, “Keep honking buddy… I’m reloading!” It’s meant as a joke, sure, but there’s still something chilling about it. It’s a reflection of the times we live in, where serious road rage has replaced a simple flip of the bird or mayonnaise balloon on someone’s windshield while cruising our nation’s highways. I’ll take “I’ve got Pac-Man Fever!” over “Keep honking…” any day of the week.

Fortunately, sometimes, it CAN be 1980 again, even though the calendar on my wall reads “1998.” (I’ve been meaning to get a new calendar.) A few months back, I ran across a new Namco game, Mr. Driller, that had three important things on the jewel-case: a round yellow sticker that read “NEW,” “Namco” and “$19.99.” So long Andy Jackson, hello Mr. Driller!

After racing home from the store amidst all those “keep honking buddy…” bumper stickers, I retired to the game room, powered up Mr. Driller, and sat in awe as it WAS 1980 once more. Exactly two seconds into the opening sequence, this title became a classic that would have been right at home sandwiched between Pac-Man and Centipede at the local arcade.

“The town is being overrun by colored blocks! Everybody is in a panic! Quick, call Mr. Driller!!” Later in the whimsical opening sequence, we learn that “the blocks are coming from deep underground!” The blocks aren’t explained as something else -- UFO larvae, secret stash of Santa’s stock, bundles of old Atari 2600 E.T. carts erupting up through the surface of a landfill... They aren’t given a long drawn out backstory – we just know what we need to know in order to play, a la the games of yesteryear. Colored blocks are here, and it’s up to Mr. Driller to stop them!

Make sure to sit through all of the opening sequences, the attract mode, the menu music – soak it all in and bask in its wholesome goodness. The artwork is bold and fun and is colored with sugary sweet pinks, greens and blues. The music throughout the game is catchy. The attract-mode theme even contains 1980 style vinyl LP hisses and pops and then briefly breaks into a modern beat (suitable for any club on a Friday night) before lapsing back into the “here comes the ice cream man” ditty that you will come to know and love. The world is a better place already, and the game hasn’t even started yet!

As Mr. Driller, it’s up to the gamer to (literally) get to the bottom of things. Where are these blocks coming from? Why won’t they stop their onslaught? Rest assured, these questions will be answered upon completion of the 5000 foot course. Pigeon-holers might refer to this game as Dig Dug meets Columns or Baku Baku or Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, but it’s actually far removed from any of those games.

mrdriller2ps1.jpg (45544 bytes)Selecting the arcade mode brings up a screen where the player can opt to go through a 2500 foot deep contest (too easy) or the standard 5000 foot contest (more challenging). In a nutshell, drill down through the colored blocks as quickly as possible while avoiding death and reach the finish line at 5000 feet. Sounds easy right? Exactly, and there’s the hook. That’s literally all there is to it.

Except for a couple of minor details.

As Mr. D. descends through the multicolored blocks, they begin to fall. If they land on him, he’s reduced to a withering heap of mashed potatoes. Blocks of the same color stick together, and when four or more like colored blocks meet, they all disappear, providing lots of chain reactions that can both help and hinder Mr. Driller’s progress. Brown boxes of the non-Ralph Baer variety are also scattered about and are easy to find – X marks the spot. These “X-boxes” (of the non-Microsoft variety) not only slow Driller down, (they take five hits to drill through) they also relieve him of 20 units or so of his precious air. Which reminds me, I forgot to mention the air meter.

The already difficult task of journeying to the center of the earth is further compounded by the fact that Mr. Driller has a limited air supply. It’s up to the player to direct him to as many air capsules as possible. The right side of the screen contains a donut shaped air meter to keep track of how much oxygen is on hand. When it runs out, Mr. Driller turns blue, thinks about a skull and crossbones for a couple of seconds, and finally exhales his last breath before floating up to game-hero heaven.

Every 500 feet down equals one “level”, and at the end of each level, Mr. Driller encounters a mega-block. Drilling through it clears the level, and he continues on down through the blocks without so much as a pause. After 2000 feet, Mr. Driller encounters a duo-tone (green and yellow blocks only) level and must rethink his plan of attack. Patience is the key here: simply drill straight down through the blocks making sure nothing is directly above Mr. Driller. Wait for all the chain reactions to stop, gather all the air capsules, and repeat. This section of the game is a great time to (literally again) take a slight breather and max out the air meter.

Keep on drillin’, and Mr. Driller will reach the 5000 feet goal and save humanity. Just remember that the blocks fall faster and faster, air depletes more rapidly as the game goes on, and there are fewer air capsules but more X-blocks. No problem. Right?

Namco has also been kind enough to include two additional variations of Mr. Driller in the home version: time attack mode and survival mode. In time attack mode, the air capsules are replaced by clocks. Mr. Driller has one chance to beat the clear time for any given level, and must not only take the fastest route to the end, he usually needs to grab all the clocks (they remove time from the total elapsed time) along the way. Survival mode gives Mr. Driller one chance to drill as far down as he possibly can, and he can start from 0 feet, 5000 feet, or 10000 feet below the surface. Survival mode also affords the player an instant replay of their progress when the game ends, giving gamers an opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

Mr. Driller is a must have, instant-classic game with lots of depth (couldn’t resist) that will quickly find its way into your regular game rotation. Without a flux-capacitor modified DeLorean to visit 1980 with, Mr. Driller is the next best thing. With any luck, we’ll soon see bumper stickers that read, “I’ve got Mr. Driller fever!!” and the streets will be safe once again. I’ve finally got my time machine. Thanks, Namco!


just before a block falls, it shakes for a moment. Use this opportunity to scramble underneath the block to map out a route, grab an air capsule, or just jive an’ wail.

The air capsules and X-boxes are key sources of points – grab and “match” (respectively) as many as possible.

Chain reactions can lead to big scores, but remember the words of Chicken Little, “the sky is falling!”

Figure out the different ways to unearth the air capsules, then scarf ‘em all up. Many times, higher blocks simply need to fall on lower blocks to afford Mr. Driller access to an air capsule.

Get into “the zone.” Once there, run through the game on autopilot. Thinking too much about the next move tends to result in death from above.

In Time Attack mode, use the clocks to guide your progress, but also make note of which paths will allow Mr. Driller the longest freefall distance.


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Last updated: Friday, October 07, 2005 10:19 PM