Release Date: April 12, 2005
Buy 'MR. DRILLER 2': GBA
Puzzles are fun. That's a simple statement, sure, but it's one that's potently true for a lot of people. Not everyone has hair-trigger reflexes, strategical genius, or athletic prowess; for many, simply sitting down and hammering away on a brainbreaker is the best of all possible worlds. It's certainly an area with more potential players than any other, and Mr. Driller has fit in there quite nicely for a few years. Now he's back around for another go, drill in hand and oxygen running tight...
There's a story, though it's really just fluff to motivate the levels. Years ago, Mr. Driller saved the world from spontaneously appearing blocks by burrowing his way through the stacks to the source of the evil. Here Sosumu — aka Mr. Driller — is, drinking tea and watching the television, when the whole process starts again! Some people just never get a break, and our hero is one of them. Followed closely by wannabe heroine Anna Hottenmeyer, Sosumu sets out to get to the bottom of things, quite literally. While not the things that Hollywood cinema is made of, the background is more than enough to get to the real meat — digging.
Mr. Driller is the very definition of deceptively simplistic. Starting at a tiny hole near the top of the stack, you'll guide Sosumu downward through a sea of blocks. The controls work admirably at this simple job — all you can do is move and dig, so every button aside from the control pad is assigned to work the drill. Blocks break away after usually one strike, except for X-Blocks (which break after five hits) and Crystal Cubes that vanish randomly. That's it and that's all — you can move around in any direction, climb up to one block high, and dig in any of the four cardinal directions. Remember that Sosumu can't breathe below the surface; thankfully, air tanks dot the stack, giving you a few extra seconds to make a run for the bottom.
If you think that's the end of it, you'll get a nice jolt from the stones themselves. Each rock (other than the special ones) is color coded; ones in close proximity form larger Combination Stones. Boring a Combo Stone wipes the whole thing out. And of course, there's your old friend gravity wreaking havoc all around — as you dig out the structure, blocks above you are going to start coming down. This creates a strategical element: taking out blocks in a safe order is a necessity to avoid being crushed into a Mr. Pancake, but you can't go so slowly that you suffocate. As blocks pass each other, they'll settle into new patterns, form Combo Blocks of their own, or even — if enough get together — wipe themselves out, possibly generating a new set of chain reactions. Burrowing like a psychotic mole can generate mass shuffling of stones, leaving you dodging giant rocks like some underground Indiana Jones.
There's not much to speak about in the way of technical design here; graphically, MD is simply robust enough to squeak by, using a small range of stone graphics and small animations. Sosumu himself has some silly animation loops, particularly when he's suffocating (which shouldn't be a laughing matter), but the sprites are so small you may miss them outright. (I'll avoid making any puns about "blocky graphics" because I've been told the editor is claiming souls after the last time...) Sound is standard tinny Game Boy Advance fare, as is the music. Basically, you shouldn't expect much more from the engine itself than being able to see and move, which is all that's necessary at the end of the day. No slowdown, no stutter or flicker, no delay in the controls — all the elements you need to keep Sosumu or Anna alive are there, with no fluffy power-ups or silly mini-games to water down the digging sessions.
It's this simplicity that winds up damaging some of the final potential. There are three basic modes to MD, Mission Mode, Endless Mode, and Time Mode. The first one is the meat of the scenario, where Sosumu digs through three cities to find the source of the Blocks. The other two mode are exactly what they say, each featuring three difficulty levels. While beating sub-goals earns things like Driller Cards, there's really only these nine levels, and once they're done, you're done. Anna is no different than Sosumu in game (other than some different dialogues at the end of Mission Mode levels).
If anything will keep this game going, it's the difficulty. Sort of playing like a combination of Tetris and "samegame" (a marble matching game), it can be very complicated to get to the lower depths. While insanely digging downwards and dodging the fallout as best you can works, the medium and hard Mission levels are so long that you'll likely run out of lives long before reaching the bottom. Air tanks are also placed in more and more out of reach spots, making for careful going, though the pressure of suffocation keeps you from standing still too long. X-Bricks also get more and more prevalent, with their -20% air penalty hanging like an albatross. To say the difficulty arcs sharply would be an understatement.
Multiplayer is available, sporting a single mode. In Versus Mode, you compete against a second player to see who can burrow to the bottom of the stack. It plays not unlike Mission Mode, with a few power-ups tossed in to keep things exciting. Versus isn't particularly exciting, and isn't likely to be a huge draw for any player, not that many people are buying GBA games for multiplayer capabilities.
Anyone who likes a puzzle that hurts your strategic core would do all right to invest in Mr. Driller 2. What it lacks in cutting-edge technology, it makes up for in intensity and difficulty. This is not a game you can knock down in a few hours, nor is it something to hand Little Jimmy the Screaming Brat on a long car trip. It'll certainly pay out a few times over, given the randomly generated levels and tight constraints. Sadly, once you've been through the few levels, there's not much to be seen in the land of Sosumu and The Blocks. I'd suggest that anyone take at least one pass at Sosumu's Blocky Adventure — if you can rent it, do so, or buy it at the bargain bin $20 price — you certainly won't regret it while it lasts.