Game Freak is a developer known for its work on titles such as Pokémon Red and Blue, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire and Pokémon Black and White. It does occasionally put out games that don't feature the pocket monsters, however, and one of those is Drill Dozer, a Game Boy Advance action platformer set across six different areas that sees you defeating a horde of enemies and drilling through many walls along the way. Whilst not as problematic as on some systems (due to the region-free nature of the GBA), the game was only released in Japan in 2005 before arriving early the following year in North America. Now thanks to the Wii U eShop the game is officially available in Europe and Oceania – a mere ten years later.
The story involves a loveable gang of thieves called the Red Dozers, led by Doug. One day the not-so-loveable Skullkers ambush Doug, leaving him in traction, and steal a precious red diamond. You control Doug's daughter Jill, using her Drill Dozer (a rotund metal walker) to defeat the Skullkers and reclaim the diamond. Visually the game goes for a colourful cartoony style that fits the humorous plot that plays out in cutscenes and during the levels. There's plenty of detail and variety in the surroundings and numerous locations are visited, beginning with the Skullkers' hideout where a poster informs members that "Business minions must always put on a fake smile. Thug minions are required to frown and look intimidating at all times". Next there's an art museum and later you'll be underwater (with a very effective rippling screen effect) and walking across the tops of train carriages.
As the story progresses you are introduced to the Skullkers leader Croog and the determined Police Officer Carrie; it soon becomes apparent that there are multiple diamonds in play that offer great power, and this leads to a wacky adventure as different parties try to acquire them.
One thing you'll be doing a lot of in the game is drilling. You drill to break through walls, you drill to travel through tunnels and you drill to defeat goons, police and other attackers. The original Game Pak featured a rumble feature and this has been carried over to this Virtual Console release. Vibration is available on any compatible controller and it's very effective, helping with the impression you're using a giant drill bit to break down a wall or attack a robot dog. Anyone using a Wii Classic Controller / Pro may want to strap their Wii Remote to the controller as you would for Splatoon's Battle Dojo mode, as otherwise the rumble feels unusual being located away from the attached pad.
As with all Virtual Console releases on the Wii U button re-mapping is available, but the defaults work well. The A button is used to perform small jumps (or a brief dash move when crouched) whilst B is a multi-purpose action button. Press it to enter doors, pick up/drop objects (as you are required to do on a few occasions) or to answer your radio whenever fellow Red Dozers Gearmo and Grutch call you with advice. You press either L or R to use your drill, each button spinning it in a different direction.
Not all enemies are defeated by simply running into them with your drill spinning. The movement of some rules that out whilst a few police officers have shields that make frontal assaults a waste of time. There are flying drones that shoot lasers and are only vulnerable at certain points and tanks are tackled by hopping over their projectiles before drilling away at their noses. As well as walls your drill can also be used to destroy tables, plants, statues and even toilets; doing so can reveal items to replenish some of your energy or chips (the in-game currency). Some blocks break quicker than others and you'll soon be introduced to self-repairing barriers that repair themselves quicker than you can drill through. Luckily you can pick up second and third gears during each level that increase your destructive power.
The sound effects in the game are a decent selection of crashes, crumbles and thumps as your drill does its work. The most effective (aside from the real-world hum of your controller) is the heavy metal clanking your Drill Dozer makes as you walk around the levels. The music in the game is a good selection of tracks ranging from cheery and breezy to mysterious and intense. Upon collecting the third gear in a level the background music changes to a catchy triumphant piece that suits the situation of you having a fully-powered piece of machinery as you tackle the final part of the stage, determined that nothing will stand in your way.
Each area in the game has two big levels for you to work through and the first two areas are a good introduction to the gameplay. As well as drilling in four directions you'll soon find you're deflecting bullets, latching on to "socket lifts" and drilling into indestructible jelly blocks, then changing your drill's direction to throw you across otherwise unmanageable gaps. Also making use of your drill's two directions are the colour-coded tunnels: use R for red tunnels, L for blue. Combined with some chuckles from the plot (a vault combination is written down for new employees with a "don't tell anyone" type note) it makes for an enjoyable time, but it lacks challenge. The boss characters make you pause whilst you consider the best way to attack their vulnerable spot, but are fairly straightforward.
Luckily things get tougher with the third area, where the action moves to some ancient ruins. Here you'll have to contend with skeletons that disintegrate in a cloud of poisonous gas, rolling boulders, rising spikes and ghosts that turn to flames that rush to attack you. Even the bosses are tougher thanks to harder-to-reach weak points. From then on things get steadily more difficult as you have to make more use of special techniques and enemies become trickier. You'll also find some tunnels can only be travelled through in certain gears and a few sections introduce a time limit. For a bit of variety there are underwater and airborne sections in the game. Following an encounter with an elderly pair of diamond hunters (the diamonds restore youth) you acquire the add-ons to enable water and sky-based adventuring. Underwater you'll have strong currents to contend with (and aggressive fish) whilst the skies are trickier as you are not so much flying as hopping to platforms before your drill loses its power.
The boss fights are a particular highlight and include encounters with a violent tree, a giant robot and one level ends with you playing hot potato with missiles. The robot encounter sees you running around dismantling it from inside whilst a timer ticks down and feels a lot like a final end-of-game battle. Luckily it isn't, but there then follows a series of events that seem like the grand finale but aren't. It gets tiring to realise 'nope, still not over' but the action remains enjoyable and the actual final battle is brilliant in its simplicity.
To help you out once the game gets more difficult there is a shop you can visit. Here you can buy upgraded drill bits that smash through otherwise indestructible blocks, some lead to hidden areas whilst others provide a shortcut. Most useful are the extra energy tanks can also be purchased and maps are also available that add a third (very tough) stage to each area. Practice with the game, master the techniques and you can clear the main game quickly. However you are awarded a rank based on the treasure you have collected (some hidden in each level) and tracking all of this down (and clearing the extra levels) will keep you busy with the game for some time.
It mainly puts out games with "Pokémon" somewhere in the title, but Drill Dozer shows Game Freak is no one-trick Ponyta. If you are just looking for an ending the game can be cleared quickly, but tracking down all the hidden treasure and clearing the additional levels adds to the longevity of the experience. The story entertains and good music, decent use of the rumble function and effective sound effects compliment the enjoyable gameplay, meaning the main reason to return to the game is simply that it's a lot of fun.