Mr Driller (1999)
By: Namco Genre: Puzzle Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Dreamcast
Also Available For: Arcade, PlayStation, Game Boy Color, WonderSwan Color, PC, iPhone
Love it or loathe it, Dig Dug is (correctly) regarded as an all-time classic arcade game and, despite being converted to a large number of home systems, it has not been one of the franchises that Namco has furnished with a large number of updates or sequels. It received a rather anonymous second instalment in 1985, but the series wouldn't be revisited for another fourteen long years. Originally intended to be Dig Dug 3, the transition during its development to Mr Driller also included a change in the protagonist. The hero of Dig Dug was Taizo Hori but taking his place here is his son, Susumu Hori! As the highest ranked Driller in the world, he was the first one the panicked people called when the cities became overun by mysterious coloured blocks rising from underground...
This flimsy, and largely unnecessary, premise does of course set the scene for another coloured/shaped blocks puzzle game. Once you've chosen between a 2500ft or 5000ft challenge, the arcade mode throws you straight into the action with Mr Driller falling on top of a huge pile of coloured blocks. He can drill in all four joypad directions and doing so causes drilled blocks to vanish. As he drills down, untouched blocks may fall downwards if the blocks supporting them are drilled. This can of course result in Mr Driller getting crushed and losing a life. It's not quite as hard as it sounds though as falling blocks shake for a split-second before falling, giving you a precious chance to get out of the way. Falling blocks also stick to non-falling blocks of the same colour if they touch them, forming larger blocks. There's only four different-coloured blocks as well, so some blocks can get pretty big!
Luckily, larger blocks are destroyed from a single drill-strike, much like single blocks, and any four or more falling blocks of the same colour will vanish once they land. This can of course cause big chain-reactions so it's best to make sure none of them land on your head! Speed is of the essence for more than one reason too. Mr Driller has an ever-decreasing air supply so he must drill strategically but quickly. Air capsules are readily available which top up his supply by 20% but sometimes they're tricky to reach. They are often near brown 'X' blocks. These take five drill strikes each to destroy and also take away 20% of Mr Driller's air, so it's not really worth breaking one except in an emergency. Mr Driller can clamber up blocks either side of him, but only if they are one block high. This is invaluable for reaching air capsules or escaping falling blocks, but sometimes it's not enough!
As well as the arcade mode, Mr Driller players also have access to a survival mode and a time attack mode, both of which are fairly self-explanatory. The basic gameplay doesn't change a great deal, but it doesn't need to either. I don't think I was alone in finding Mr Driller a rather unlikely release by Namco on the fancy new Dreamcast, but any initial disappointment soon faded. It may look like a game that could've been hosted by a console from the previous generation, perhaps even the one before that, and it's not even particularly original, but Namco ensured Mr Driller had it where it counted. It's bright, colourful, loud - the music and sounds effects are great. But more importantly, it's just immense fun. And addictive. Very addictive. If you haven't dabbled before, Mr Driller comes highly recommended.
RKS Score: 8/10