Review: Mr. Driller 2 (Wii U eShop / GBA)

You know the drill by now

The re-release of classic Game Boy Advance titles on the Wii U eShop marks the first opportunity many new players will have to take on a variety of really substantial experiences, short of retroactively buying the system itself. Many have made the transition to the TV screen look easy, but some are detrimentally anchored by their portable status. Mr.Driller 2 is a competent puzzle game, but might not be one that’s entirely fit for the couch.

Straddling the line between arcade action and block puzzler, the Mr.Driller series puts you in the capable boots of young Susumu Hori (Fun fact: son of the original Dig Dug star) as he races to clear the world of menacing pastel-coloured blocks. The goal is to make it to the bottom of the stage without getting crushed or running out of air along the way, and you do this by strategically drilling through the blocks to clear a safe path. Susumu can drill in four directions and controls nicely as he moves around the randomly-generated columnar stages, which is important as breaking through supporting blocks will start a dangerous chain-reaction above. Same-coloured blocks will cling together to form solid shapes, which cascade downwards Tetris-style until they make contact with either the blocks below or your vulnerable head. Act quick and you can move out of the way, joining colours to satisfyingly break apart in one big chunk. Darker ‘X’ blocks are to be avoided, taking longer to break and stealing a hefty dose of oxygen to boot. Tanks can be found in the environment to replenish your supply, which acts as a steadily depleting time limit to keep things moving.

That’s the structure of Mr.Driller in a nutshell, and it doesn’t take long for the uninitiated to learn the rules and really grasp the mechanics. The challenge increases as blocks fall faster and stages stretch on longer, but it’s a solid difficulty curve that remains enjoyable instead of frustrating. Controlling Susumu directly lends a nice sense of action to the puzzle mentality, and things can get genuinely frantic as you scrabble to drill downwards and combine shapes while dodging the chaos you create above at the same time. That, however, is pretty much the extent of the game.

As players master their technique, some variation is needed to keep things interesting. Mr. Driller 2 offers a few twists on the formula, but none are really extensive enough to convert anyone already getting bored of the core experience. Starting in India for beginners, a small selection of countries act as classic-mode stages of varying difficulty; aside from that there is an endless mode which challenges you to shoot for a high score, and a time-attack mode which features 20 puzzles that do tweak things a little. For example, directional blocks rotate the entire stage and can either help or hinder your progress by clearing a path or dumping the entire world on top of you. It’s a neat distraction and will keep highscore-hunters happy, but in terms of deviation it’s fairly slim. While the multiplayer linkup hasn’t carried across to Wii U, there is a second character to play as in the form of friendly rival Anna Hottenmeyer. Expert players will notice her slightly faster movement speed, and a female alternative is always a nice inclusion.

Graphically, everything is clear enough to function, but not to impress. Although it released in 2001 as a GBA launch title in Japan, by the time it had been officially ported to the West four years later it already looked and sounded pretty dated — put this on a TV screen and it doesn’t help. The backdrops change as you dig deeper and some animations are nice and playful, but the repeated sound clip of ‘’lucky!’’ when you collect an air tank and looping music on the title screen represent some downright annoying quirks of the sound design. The audio is forgettable at best and irritating at worst. ‘’Story’’ cutscenes (blocks are falling and this is a bad thing) are actually voice-acted which is pretty impressive, but for something so arcade-like it can seem unnecessary. The aesthetics are basic because this is a pick up and play game through and through, which is exactly why it doesn’t sit quite right on a home console.

Granted, the Wii U does of course allow for off-screen GamePad usage, and this works great. It makes more sense to lose hours to perfecting your score when you aren’t tied to the living room, but it begs the question of whether or not a title like this belongs on Nintendo’s home console or its portable. The 3DS would have been a happier home for something basic at a budget price, especially when the essence of Mr.Driller can be so addictive and challenging. It’s a solid version of the basic experience, but without the additional characters, upgrades and new game modes later instalments introduced, it comes off as exactly that – basic.

Conclusion

Mr Driller’s greatest strength is its greatest weakness as well. It’s easy to learn, but does little to mix things up for anyone familiar with the core gameplay. A limited selection of modes and outdated aesthetics don’t take away from the satisfying base game, but unfortunately shorten its lifespan significantly. Fans will enjoy the usual formula, but for a game primarily concerned with digging, there’s surprisingly little depth to it.

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