First Impressions: Mr. Driller World

The plucky arcade star comes to WiiWare!

The gameplay is so simple you would be right to wonder why a game like this wasn't released for the Atari 2600, and this is a large part of the attraction and part of the novelty: the idea of what is essentially a classic arcade game being released in 1999 when arcade games were almost exclusively lightgun shooters and driving games seems bizarre. According to Wikipedia it started out as an unofficial project by a few developers at Namco who wanted to create a new Dig Dug game and was so good management decided to release it to arcades and home consoles.

Two arcade sequels followed: Mr. Driller 2 and Mr. Driller G. Mr. Driller G added what really pushed the game over the top: a cast of characters and a full back story told via an animated introduction complete with theme song (the only things missing are a TV show and breakfast cereal!). This combination of classic gameplay, attention to detail and quality presentation has made for a compelling series of games.

Mr. Driller World appears to follow directly behind the last series of Nintendo games in look and feel. This is not a port of Mr. Driller Online on XBLA (which looks more like the original arcade game), but looks more like an enhanced version of the Mission Driller mode from the Nintendo DS game Drill Spirits.

Mr. Driller fans will be happy to note that the game includes the standard menu theme music after you are initially welcomed by the by now familiar announcement "Mis-tah Drill-e-dah!" -- though it lacks the full theme song or any videos. This is probably to save space: the game comes in at an impressively compact 126 blocks on the Japanese Wii and the "nice price" of 800 points.

You have a full range of control options: Remote, Remote and Nunchuk, Classic Controller and Gamecube pad. We opted for Remote NES-style given that you only need four directions and a single button to play.

After choosing one of six profiles for entering your name (1-4 characters: kana or romanji) you can then 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 only by a flag -- no globe graphic as in Drill Spirits) 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 (again the attention to detail that fans love about these games).

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 (DPAD) or (STICK); pressing the (A) or (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 percent 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 100m) 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 incur a 20 percent air penalty. Lastly there are boulders which won't stick to anything, making them extra dangerous. 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 arcade game: there are no continues; you simply need to do better to complete the different "missions" if you fail.

The most obvious difference between the difficulty levels in the game is the playfield width. On the lowest difficulty the screen appears zoomed-in and the playfield is only 7 blocks across; there are also fewer X-blocks and boulders and your air supply runs out more slowly. On the medium level you have a 9-block playfield width, your air runs out a bit faster and there are more X-blocks and boulders. 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; there are also many more boulders and X-blocks and your air suppy runs out very quickly!

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 levels for the first three countries will unlock more countries for a total of 8 areas to play in, each with three difficulty levels 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
Space: Infinite for all three difficulties

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 this game, like the aforementioned ones, keeps stats after every completed play (win or lose) tracking your score, depth reached and total time. Your score is automatically entered on the leaderboard for the difficulty level in that country.

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). Most Driller fans will be concerned with beating their best scores and unlocking all the levels, though online leaderboards would have been nice.

As a single-player game we cannot fault it: there's a lot of Driller action here and it's got the same great presentation fans have become accustomed to. The variety of difficulties provides a different challenge from previous games, so it's not 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 and greater variety of levels. We're 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 and get a Japanese Gamecube or Wii to experience the full range of Mr. Driller goodness.

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