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Mr Driller: Drill Spirits

For: DS

Falling blocks and dropping air supply - Mr Driller is a tense game but does it have depth?

Product: Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits | Publisher: Namco Bandai Networks Europe | Format: DS | Genre: Puzzle | Players: 1-5 | Networking: wireless (adhoc)
Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits DS, thumbnail 1
It says much about our need to tidy up that so many games have been based around moving blocks into neat piles. The subconscious tidying up of Tetris was always seen as a major reason for its popularity with women; well that and its lack of a vast armoury of war objects.

But back to organising blocks. An ideal basis for puzzle games, designers seem to have an endless supply of ideas about how to base games around them. Even now we have games based on tidying up coloured blocks, musical blocks, coloured musical blocks, symbol blocks that turn into rockets... The variation seems endless.

Namco's particular twist is Susumu Hori, the cute underground adventurer who's better known as Mr Driller. He drills deep holes into stacks of coloured blocks; always taking care not to be crushed by falling blocks or run out of air as he heads to the bottom of the mine.

And it's avoiding these two fates that are at the heart of the Mr Driller: Drill Spirits experience. While everyone can quickly understand how to drill blocks to try and make four or more blocks of colour fall together and disappear in the process, the game doesn't give you too much time to think about tidying them all up. The reason is Mr Driller's always in need of air, and when he starts panting, you know it's time to drop caution (and tidying) and start drilling recklessly for any air pick-ups in sight. Thankfully, as you drill through blocks, they take a second or so to fall, providing Mr Driller with the opportunity to dodge and drill a tunnel to a safer place. Of course, when there's dozen of blocks above, their fall will eventually catch up with Mr Driller, unless you can cunningly make it to the bottom of each sublevel or, more luckily, position yourself in a vertical gap.

And it's this sort of gameplay that means playing Mr Driller is always a tense experience. Because at the same time you're tidying up the stacks to ensure they don't fall on your head further down, you're also being tempted to go lower to get to that air pocket.

But how does the Mr Driller concept work in the context of being Mr Driller: Drill Spirits for DS we hear you ask?

In terms of game mode, there's plenty available. Of course, there's the standard single-player mission mode that has you drilling progressively deeper holes through seven stages. There are five unlockable characters, each with slightly different abilities and as you clear stages and accumulate drill depths, so you can buy useful items such as speed ups, extra air, extra lives and anti-crush barriers.

Other modes include the pressure driller, which rather bizarrely even for this type of game, sees you trying to take out the destroyer drill which is relentlessly attempting to drill you into the ground. You can fight back with fireballs, but it's not Mr Driller fun at its best. There's also a time attack mode and what's called the Dristone driller, where Mr Driller's air supply decreases by 1 unit every time he drills a block, rather than being decreased by time. The trick here is to use the special dristone pick-ups - which turn one colour to another or remove all blocks of a certain colour from the screen - to make it to the bottom.

What's much less satisfactory however is how Mr Driller uses the DS hardware. While you can use the touchscreen and stylus for working through menus, it's too slow compared to the d-pad when it comes to guiding our hero through the depths. Neither are the dual screens particularly well utilised. While it's good to be able to see what's above when you're down below, it's hardly revolutionary. In fact, the only thing Mr Driller does use the DS well for is wi-fi multiplayer, where you can share the game with your Mr Driller-less friends by beaming them the Driller race mode. There is also a more fully featured multi race when all players have a Mr Driller game.

So to sum up Mr Driller: Drill Spirits? At heart, it's a fun game but one that's not particularly special on DS. Driller fans will enjoy it, and if you've never tried drilling, it's well worth the experience. But considering the sheer variety of puzzle games on DS, it's hard to recommended it.

Mr Driller: Drill Spirits is on sale now.
Mr Driller: Drill Spirits
Reviewer photo
Jon Jordan | 7 July 2005
A fun game, but compared to the puzzle competition on DS, Mr Driller just doesn't have enough depth
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