Standalone WiiWare Review: Mr. Driller World

Mr. Driller Drill Land is famous (and infamous) amongst Mr. Driller fans. It’s the Holy Grail of drilling games (yes, that is a genre in its own right) having multiple game modes, brilliant cut scenes and engaging music (released on CD as Project Driller). It’s also noteworthy as being one of the few Gamecube games that’s frustratingly difficult to get working properly on anything bar a Japanese Gamecube and is a big part of why I own a Japanese Wii.

As a result, the confirmation of Mr. Driller World getting a global release should make a lot of people happy. It’s not Drill Land, but it includes some of the same music and some of the same gamplay for an economical 800 point and 126 blocks on the Japanese WiiWare service.

After getting the initial menu to come up and the familiar announcement “Mistah Drill-e-dah” you’re shown the controller options which run the gamut: wiimote sideways, Classic Controller, wiimote+nunchuk or Gamecube controller. I always choose the former when given the choice and it works well given the game only uses one button (a second buttons allows for backing out of submenus).

After choosing one of six save profiles and entering your name, you can view leaderboards or jump into the game. You have the standard character choices from the Drilling Association: Taizou Hori, chairman and hero of the “Dig Dug incident,” his son — Mr. Driller himself — Susumu Hori, his other son (the black sheep of the family) Ataru Hori, Susumu’s talking wonder dog Puchi, Susumu’s rival and possible love interest Anna Hottenmeyer and the amazing robot Hollinger-Z. Ataru’s black rabbit Usagi appears to be an unlockable character judging from the silhouette seen in a central circle with a “?” on it in the character select screen. The human characters differ slightly in movement and block-breaking speed, Puchi can jump up two blocks when moving side-to-side (other characters can only jump one) and Hollinger-Z can take two hits before losing a life.

After choosing your character you have an initial choice of four areas to play in: Drill Lab (a training exercise of 100m depth that prompts you to carry out various in-game actions — intended for Mr. Driller novices only), Japan, China and Russia. After choosing the country you want to play in (represented by a flag) you have a choice of three levels of difficulty. In some cases there are different depths involved, but this is not always the case: easy on Japan is 300m; the two harder difficulties are 500m each. China is 500m, 800m and 1000m; in Russia all the difficulty levels are 500m depth. Countries also differ in the background graphics and animated characters dancing in the upper right corner of the screen.

The gameplay hasn’t changed since 1999: rather than guiding the blocks themselves, like Tetris or Columns, you move your character on-screen; and rather than trying to link objects of matching colours you’re trying to drill down to the target depth avoiding falling blocks and boulders on the way. It sounds and looks simple, but it’s definitely not easy.

Your character can face in one of four directions using the d-pad/control stick; pressing the A/2 button breaks the block or boulder you’re facing. Since you’re deep underground you need to bring air with you which is constantly running out; luckily you can find capsules that will restore %20 of your air if picked up. Coloured blocks (in lovely primary or pastel colours of red, green, blue and yellow with textures that change every 200m or so) will merge with ones of like colour and disappear if massed in groups of four or more. This is also true of X-blocks (which look like crates), but whilst coloured blocks will disappear after one hit, X-blocks take several and also cost you %20 of your air supply. There are boulders which won’t stick to anything, making them extra dangerous and finally crystal blocks which disappear causing instability in the blocks above them.

Blocks are tracked by the game even after they’re off-screen; clearing large groups can cause them to fall continuously making for some frantic drilling. Thankfully you get small respites in the form of all blocks clearing every 100m until you either lose all three of your lives or reach goal. Despite being on home console it plays like the original arcade game: there are no continues, you simply need to do better to complete the different “missions” if you fail. Difficulty levels vary consistently in the width of the playfield: on the lowest difficulty the screen appears zoomed-in and the playfield is only 7 blocks across, on the medium level you have a 9-block playfield width and the highest difficulty has more than double the playfield width of the lowest difficulty, which results in a zoomed-out look with your character and the blocks being much smaller than normal. Other hazards that vary with difficulty are the speed with which your air runs out and the number of boulders, crystals and X-blocks encountered.

Reaching the goal results in a large graphic of your character triumphant, a message of Congratulations! and a prompt to replay, exit to character selection or main menu. Completing the lowest difficulty level for the first three countries will unlock more countries with the full listing (and depths) as follows:

Japan: 300m, 500m, 500m
China: 500m, 800m, 1000m
Russia: 500m for all three difficulties
Egypt: 500m for all three difficulties
Brazil: 500m for all three difficulties
USA: 800m, 1000m, 2000m
UN: Infinite for all three difficulties

There is apparently also a Space “country” which plays like Star Driller from Drill Land and is also Infinite, but I’m uncertain of the conditions for unlocking it (part of the reason I’ve delayed writing this was review was in the hopes of doing so) and so I cannot confirm this.

The audio will be familiar to anyone who has played Mr. Driller A or Mr. Driller Drill Land: in addition to the menu theme music the characters all have the same audio pronouncements when they get air capsules, die, come back (after losing a life) and lose their last life. The in-game pause menu and post-game menus are also the same with options to restart a game in progress or exit out to various top-level menus.

Lastly stats are kept after every completed play (win or lose) tracking your score, character used, depth reached and total time. Your score is automatically entered on the leaderboard for the difficulty level in that country and these scores can be viewed prior to loading a saved profile by selecting an option from the profile select screen.

There is no multi-player option — either local or online — and no online leaderboards (though with six profile slots you could have multiple people tracking their scores together locally). For me it’s all about bettering my game so I can live without both of these things, though online leaderboards would have been nice.

As a single-player game I cannot fault it: there’s a lot of Driller action here and it’s got the same great presentation I’ve become accustomed to from playing Drill Land. The variety of difficulties provides a different challenge from previous games, so I don’t feel it’s superfluous if you already have Mr. Driller A or Mr. Driller Drill Land. For owners of Drill Spirits the attraction is clearly going to be the bigger screen (this appears to be essentially a Wii port of the Mission Driller mode from that game). Will it come to the rest of the world? Well, the fact that it appears to have been derived from Drill Spirits (which had a worldwide release) should be very encouraging.

I’m hopeful that there could be more WiiWare Driller games that re-package other elements of Mr. Driller Drill Land; in the meantime the hardcore Driller fan will simply have to bite the bullet as I did and get a Japanese Gamecube or Wii to experience the full range of Mr. Driller goodness.