Mr. Driller (Dreamcast) review
"I never liked to play with plain blocks as a kid, and I wasn't terribly destructive either, but knock me over if I don't find joy in the ways game developers allow the populace to bash endless computerized blocks together and make them vanish. Enter Mr. Driller, a cute little potholder-faced fellow that lets you do this in several ways and scenarios. But it's his first effort, so he doesn't have the concept of fun down pat, even though he looks like he could. "
I never liked to play with plain blocks as a kid, and I wasn't terribly destructive either, but knock me over if I don't find joy in the ways game developers allow the populace to bash endless computerized blocks together and make them vanish. Enter Mr. Driller, a cute little potholder-faced fellow that lets you do this in several ways and scenarios. But it's his first effort, so he doesn't have the concept of fun down pat, even though he looks like he could.
Mr. Driller starts out on top of a 9-wide grid of blocks. He can drill to the left, right, down, or even up(very hazardous that,) and he can also walk up a block to his side. If he causes any blocks to fall, they lump together if they pass next to ones with similar colors, and they vanish if four in a row are linked. Also when he drills one block he takes out the whole lump. The object for the main arcade version is simply to get five hundred feet below(each time he drops, the screen scrolls up five game-feet) per level, but of course there are obstacles. First there are brown X blocks to counter the easter-marshmallow block motif, but they are not too plentiful. Because with all this drilling down, Mr. Driller depends on air. There's a gauge in the lower right; get a pill, which takes place of blocks occasionally, and it replenishes 20% of your air. However it can set blocks to give a warning shake before they fall on you from above and possibly even offscreen(RIP.)
In fact, that is the chief way to die. Judging if a block will fall on you encompasses the main puzzle in the game. The other is figuring out how to burrow and pick up a secluded air pill--brown boxes(which take 20%--and time--if you try to dig them) shelter them increasingly as you descend. You need to worry about these less if you learn how to drill down quickly, but there's a satisfaction in prying an air capsule from where four boxes surrounded it on each side, or from letting blocks fall to open a path to the capsule and having them suspend a row above you, creating a hole you know you can dig out of later, collapsing a makeshift cave or timing a run to avoid objects falling at cockeyed times.
Plus you get accelerating points for each capsule, and as the major way to score(there's an obligatory pittance for busting blocks) it makes for a very even point allocation. Mr. Driller's underlying fairness is noteworthy as many games stick you at a point plateau throughout a level where you die easily, and you just have to survive, or they deluge you with a bonus that should be in scientific notation, but here while it gets steadily tougher to move down you also start gaining points more rapidly, based on how well you scoured earlier levels. It also cuts a fair break when you die. You start at the same place, but as a ghostly Mr. Driller ascends to his reward, he turns the blocks above you all twinkly and allows room to work with. The post-game advice, while a bit obvious after a few plays, is also appropriate. Then there's a choice of ways to progress; drill through everything and avoid stuff falling above to get a time bonus, or try to get every air pill for points up front.
Unfortunately this variety doesn't extend to the modes. Although you can play 2500-foot(beginner) or 5000-foot(expert) modes, many are recycled later. While the glacial or swirled-candy block themes are pleasing(the two-earth-toned block quasi-bonus segment included) I'm not fooled when they're just shuffled with only random coloring difference. On solving the beginner level, which took a game of ten minutes, I really wondered why I should bother with the expert.
Timed mode seemed to provide more of a haven than unlimited mode(i.e. play 'til you die,) but bursts of innovation prop it up for only so long. There are four original scenes to beat the computer's time on so that you unlock four more. You'll want to drill down 500 feet as fast as possible with no fatalities, and to help you, instead of air pills there are clocks with numbers that can take up to three seconds off your time. The goal is usually around twenty seconds, but unfortunately the game can be a bit simple sometimes; for each scenario you have specific blocks lined up, and unfortunately the main piece of strategy is that it takes longer to blast one glued-together block than several that are separate. Often you have to create cave-ins to avoid delays, or run in to pick up a clock. There are decoys that distract you as well. While you get some new music from these scenes, unfortunately it's harder to learn to time your drills(a mis-time costs a half-second) than to figure out which side to go on. The backgrounds, while interpreting several standard fantasy locations enjoyably, aren't supposed to provide that much more flavor than the puzzles.
These are all gripes about how a game cheerily promises so much after a few plays and eventually drags out its individual games to shorten its shelf-life. It's nice to be able to move on, but you get neither a flash of reasoning or a huge adrenaline rush from the game. But the only thing I really dislike about Mr. Driller is the noise. There's a moderate siren that plays when you approach 20 percent, and it starts blaring under that. Pick up an air pill and--oh joy!--the siren softens again, for a bit. The screen corner flashing is really enough, and of course there's a mute button that sweeps out the generally pleasing background tunes, but it's just an annoying contrast to an otherwise well laid out game.
Less immediately appealing concepts have lasted better than Mr. Driller, which is a shame. Besides, Mr. Driller is too pastel to dislike heartily, with all that stumbling after a block just misses crushing him too, and when you're zooming down drilling it's easy to forget the fun you're having is a bit flawed and limited long-term, especially since it's presented well. And I am glad the idea has been prodded into greater variance. Surely he's earned the stars above his head on an unsuccessful game-over, but it's only right that they're not gold.
Community review by aschultz (June 02, 2004)
Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.
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