Puzzle games. You either love them or hate them, but if you are a fan of puzzle titles, then Nintendo's DS handheld is quite possibly the platform to own. With Polarium and Zoo Keeper having already appeared on the platform, we've now been treated to Namco's Mr Driller: Drill Spirits. The Mr Driller series began on the PlayStation One, and was one of those obscure titles we never thought would exit Japan. But since then, the game has seen a release on the Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Dreamcast, PC and mobile phones, meaning the game's arrival on the Nintendo DS felt, well, almost inevitable.
Those who are unfamiliar with the Mr Driller concept will find it fairly easy to grasp. The main objective in Mr. Driller closely resembles Namco's Dig Dug, pitting the main character in a race against time and the elements in a quest to dig as far as possible. In Mr. Driller, your objective is to dig to the bottom of each level as quickly as possible while you collect enough air to stay alive and create a path that keeps blocks from squishing Susumu, your little driller chap. With your fellow diggers trapped underground, the objective is to rescue them.
The meat of the title is to be found in the Mission mode, which pits players in different locations throughout the world, though with the game set underground we're a little unsure about how this actually matters. The objective is to complete each mission, and things get progressively harder. Players are awarded along the way with new characters to drill away with.
Aside from this, there's a Race mode and a Time Attack mode, but players are likely to spend most of their time with the Mission mode. There is also a Pressure mode, which encourages players to escape a giant drill, an addition that considerably speeds up the gameplay and makes the player feel a little more pressured.
The gameplay itself is fairly addictive, but it's disappointing that there haven't been many enhancements. The touch screen of the DS can be used to move Mr Driller around, but it is simply much easier to use the directional pad, not the first time that Namco has neglected the stylus in such a way. We are pleased that they allowed for the touch screen to be used, but we want more from it, rather than just a harder way to control a character. It really is much more awkward (and more difficult to see Mr Driller) using the touchscreen, so most people will just stick to the beloved directional pad.
Multiplayer wise the game comes through. Initially we were under the impression it was impossible to do single card multiplayer, but it seems the European version of the game includes this mode. The US version was missing this, so we're pleased it made the cut in the game.
Graphically, the visuals on offer here fulfil their purpose, though we can't help but feel that overall the game just hasn't evolved. The graphics are just how they were five years ago, though it's easy to make colours out on the DS screen, and the simplicity of the visuals is probably appropriate.
Audio-wise, the game doesn't excel, but the sound is adequate enough to avoid being annoying. The tunes are fairly simple, and don't really excite the player as much as they possibly could have. The sound could have been optimised so it that added to the gaming experience, rather than feeling like a last-minute addition, as if Namco forgot that their titles required sound.
Yes, the first and third screenshots are different; about as different as this version and the GBA version.
The game itself should take a decent amount of time to complete. The unlockables help to extend the replayability, and multiplayer helps to extend the game a bit. It can get quite difficult though, so the game isn't exactly a pushover. There isn't as many puzzles to solve as we would have hoped though; this is really the kind of game that needs a random level generator, where levels are randomly created and random objects are dropped.
Mr Driller has been around for five years now, and the core gameplay hasn't changed. We honestly doubt that it ever will to be honest, but Namco really could have done a few things to make this game a little more worthy of your cash. There's a nagging feeling that the franchise could do with a bit of an overhaul. Right now, it's all beginning to feel extremely familiar from the moment you insert the cart. However, if you've been looking for a Nintendo DS Mr Driller title and are happy to endure only minor gameplay enhancements, or are a complete newcomer to the series, then you'll find this title relatively enjoyable.
This review is brought to you courtesy of Infinite Gameplay, with unlimited game rentals starting from $19.95 a month.