Mr. Driller Spirits


Review by Tyler Willis



Graphics: 8

Sound: 6

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 7


mr-driller-drill-spirits-2.jpg (33077 bytes)By way of name, Mr. Driller could have been an oral surgeon. Or an oilman. Maybe a porn star. But such was not to be. The Namco gods decreed that Mr. Driller was to be a pint-sized pastel fellow who drilled through randomly distributed, brightly colored blocks.

Why? Mr. Driller needs no reason to drill. He just drills.

Though the Mr. Driller series has seen release on a number of platforms, Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits marks the first iteration on the Nintendo DS system. The basic formula of a easy-to-pick-up, hard-to-master action puzzle game is still in place, but Namco has added a few extra modes, unlockables, and limited use of the touch screen to enhance this particular release.

At its heart, Drill Spirits remains true to its roots. The main mode of the game has Mr. Driller advancing through a number of stages, unlocking characters as he goes. The basic formula is this: Mr. Driller finds out that someone - a comrade, a rival, his dog - is at the bottom of a pit, and he decides to investigate. Levels come in multiples of 100 feet with the beginner stage at 300 feet, ranging up to 2000, and an endless stage for the truly hardcore.

Mr. Driller advances downward by plowing through blocks, which are unfortunately rather unstable. Picking the wrong block can mean a cascade of blocks showering down upon the poor guy, each block capable of making a Mr. Driller Pancake. Of course, blocks of the same color stick together, and if four or more come together, they'll disappear. This makes chain comboing a possibility, but such can have unforeseen consequences as blocks will start falling willy-nilly.

To add complications, Mr. Driller - like most vaguely humanoid creatures - needs air to survive. Instead of snaking an air hose down with him as he drills, he'll have to hunt for air capsules buried in the ground. These will replenish his air to a small degree, but as they become fewer and farther between the deeper he goes, it can rather difficult keeping the little guy breathing. Also, there are x-blocks which reduce Mr. Driller's air supply if he drills through them. Naturally, these will often be found surrounding the air capsules. Finally, there are crystals blocks will which disappear on their own after a certain amount of time, either being helpful in clearing the path or deadly in causing a crushing chain reaction.

mr-driller-drill-spirits-1.jpg (33120 bytes)In addition to Mr. Driller himself, playing through the stages will yield up a number of other characters who are met in badly written, horribly voice-acted storyboard scenes. Once Mr. Driller has cleared the respective stages of the characters, the player can choose to play as one of the other characters. Using Mr. Driller as the norm, each character has slightly different rates of air consumption and movement speed, while a few have special features.

Besides unlocking characters, Mr. Driller gains mileage points for each attempt at a level; these points can be used in a store to gain power-up items for use in either the main mission driller mode or the pressure driller mode. Power-ups range from barriers which protect from death once to increased speed to more powerful fireballs. While these certainly make the game a bit easier, the penalty is that any level completed using items will not count for the record book.

Apart from the main mode, Drill Spirits sports a few other modes. Back from the sequel is the time attack mode in which Mr. Driller must complete a level within a certain timeframe. Pressure driller is an interesting action twist on the puzzle concept. As Mr. Driller moves downward, he is chased by a giant drill machine that spews out blocks. If Mr. Driller is caught by the machine, he loses the level. In addition to the normal air capsules, he can pick up fireball capsules which can be used to fire at the machine. The targetable area tends to move around, so it requires both good reflexes and quick thinking to shoot enough fireballs to take the machine down in later levels.

Drill Spirits takes limited advantage of the unique capabilities of the DS. The menu navigation is touch screen oriented, though it is just as fast to select with the crosspad. The game itself allows the player to use the touch pad to click to destroy a block, but this very quickly proves itself more trouble than it's worth. The best use of the DS is in extending the viewable area to the top screen, allowing for more strategy when negotiating falling blocks and keeping an eye on the great drill machine in pressure driller mode. The game also features a wireless multiplayer mode, but it requires each player to have their own cartridge.

Graphically, the game - in the tradition of puzzle games everywhere - eschews the need for fancy, realistic graphics, opting instead for a vibrant clash of bright colors. Aurally, veterans will find much in common with its younger predecessors - decent sound effects and an okay soundtrack.

Overall, Drill Spirits is a worthy successor to the Mr. Driller series and a good puzzle game for the DS. Recommended for fans of the genre and of the series.


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Last updated: Monday, July 03, 2006 09:43 PM