That Mr. Driller W would be among the better puzzle games on the WiiWare service was somewhat of a given. It's a close relation to Dig Dug - a classic arcade series if there ever was one - and its own line of releases spans more consoles than you might have known existed. Mr. Driller has a long, rich and well-established history, and if you haven't been a part of it yet, there's no better time to dig in. Or should that be drill? Ha! Ha! Ha ha! (And so end the puns.)
The concept of the game is simple; you begin at the "surface" of each level (represented by one of six countries, each of which has a further division of three difficulties) and must drill down to a predetermined depth. Easy, right? Well yes, in theory. (In theory, Communism works. In theory.)
There are a number of other factors to keep in mind during your descent, however, even on the lowest difficulty settings. Primary among these is the safety of your character, who, for some strange reason, doesn't appreciate being crushed to death under falling rocks. Go figure! Your secondary concern is your oxygen level, which depletes steadily over time and must be refilled by finding spare canisters, lest you turn blue and die.
Yes, death is a constant, hovering concern and because your character is always one wrong move away from the afterlife, Mr. Driller W sometimes plays more like an action game than it does a puzzler. And this - you can rest assured - is very much a good thing. (In terms of difficulty, a comparison to Mega Man 9 is not entirely out of line.)
The fact that Mr. Driller W qualifies as an action-puzzler lends it both an air of uniqueness and of urgency; you need to think very quickly about what you're doing, what you're going to do next, and - as we will discuss shortly - what you've done. You won't get a chance to rest your mind; you're solving puzzles the whole way down. Take a moment to think and you're liable to asphyxiate, or to be killed by a falling block from a combo that's still reacting high above you.
Combos, you see, are not the clear-cut positive achievements that they are in other puzzle games; here, they are just as likely to get you killed as they are to boost your score, as blocks will continue to fall, react to each other, vanish, break apart and tumble down from high above you. The blocks don't cease to exist just because you've scrolled them away...no sir. You always - and we do mean always - need to be ready in case the unforeseen consequence of an ongoing chain comes falling from above, all set to conk you on the head, ending your drilling, and your game. It's a brilliant way to complicate the inherently positive nature of combos, and it will force you to consider every action beyond the fruit of its immediate results.
Beyond this you will also encounter several different types of blocks that will hinder your progress, sometimes by costing you 20% of your oxygen to drill through, by refusing to react to other blocks, or - my personal favorite - by vanishing of their own free will, setting into motion avalanches that will either have to be avoided or outraced to the bottom.
In spite of the Saturday-morning art style and the simple concept, this game offers some of the most serious challenge in the entire WiiWare library. The easiest difficulty setting will indeed put up a fight, and once you move on to the higher settings you'll find your time decreased, your travel distance increased, and a desperate necessity to solve complicated block patterns before you even get a chance to evaluate them!
In a lesser game, this would be frustrating. In Mr. Driller W there's just enough compulsion and encouragement to keep that Wiimote in your hand. It's tough, after all, to get mad at a game that's so much fun.
For those who can conquer the various difficulty levels, at least two other play modes can be unlocked (an endless mode, and something else that takes place in outer space and won't be unlocked by yours truly any time soon), along with one additional mystery character.
The choice of characters adds a good deal of variety to the game, as each one shakes up play style somewhat. For instance, playing as the dog allows you to jump out of holes two blocks deep (other characters can only jump one), and playing as the robot will allow you to be "crushed" once by falling blocks without dying. (No concessions are made for running out of oxygen, however!) The choice of characters doesn't completely redefine the gameplay but it's a great way of tipping the scales a little bit in your favor, even if the extreme difficulty takes a lot more than a leaping dog or uncrushable robot to overcome.
There are four control styles to choose from and local leaderboards to track your score, as well as several different profiles for saving your progress. There are three separate difficulty settings in each of the six main levels, and while that may not sound like much, you will be busy for a long time completing them all, and since each level is randomized (within a certain set of parameters depending upon the difficulty) you can look forward to a new experience every single time you play.
Adorable visuals, quirky background tunes and an urgently addictive gameplay mechanic all add up to a truly unique and rewarding action-puzzler. While the difficulty might be a bit steep for younger players (and some of us as well...ahem...) and not many people will have the skills to unlock everything, there's no denying that Mr. Driller W is at least as fun as it is challenging. Easily recommended.