Name of Game: Mr. Driller - Drill Spirits
Platform: Nintendo DS
Year of Release: 2004
Note: This is a review of the American version. If possible, get the import, as a bunch of stuff was taken out of the American version. This review doesn't really mention that, as it was written for a local newspaper (whose audience doesn't even play, much less import, games with any regularity).
Back in the old days of the Game Boy, one game reigned supreme. No matter how much or how little time you had spent playing it, you could always just jump right back in. It was the perfect handheld experience. You could play for a few minutes or a few hours. Sadly, with the lack of backwards compatibility in the Nintendo DS, we are left with a much smaller library to choose from. What were we to do without our beloved Tetris?
This is where Mr. Driller Drill Spirits comes in. The latest in the hit Japanese series of puzzle games, Drill Spirits is really the first true killer-app on the DS. The premise of the series is simple enough; anyone can pick it up and play without prior instructions. However, there is still plenty of room for unique strategies. Each mode presents the same basic game with minor twists.
The first mode, "mission driller," consists of a number of levels. Your goal is to drill your way to the bottom. The further along you get, the deeper each level is. It isn't quite as easy as it sounds. You must avoid the falling blocks left in the wake of your drilling. If any of them hit you, say goodbye to your little pastel-colored avatar. You only get three lives before you lose (and when the level is 2000 m deep, this isn't nearly as easy as it might sound). You also have to take calculated risks in order to collect oxygen capsules to avoid suffocation. It gets especially frustrating as the levels get deeper and deeper, but it is also about as fun as can be.
The second mode is the "pressure driller" mode. This time around, the goal is to defeat the giant drill before it crushes you in its descent. To do this, you must not only collect oxygen capsules, but power capsules as well. When your opponent is open to attack, you can use the power capsules to shoot a fireball up at it. This mode gets my pick as favorite. It isn't quite as difficult as the mission mode even though it gives you more to do.
The final single player mode is "time attack driller." Similar to the first mode, the goal is simply to go from point "A" to point "B." Unlike the mission mode, you have a set time limit in order to make it to the end of the stage. It starts off deceptively easy, but quickly gets more and more difficult. You no longer have to worry about oxygen, which does ease the pain a bit. You can also collect little items to grant you a few more seconds.
Multiplayer is quick and loads of fun. That is, it would be if you could ever find an opponent. Namco made a huge mistake in not programming this for single-card play. The technology is easily available; there is no excuse to not utilize it. From a business standpoint, I can see how the suits might see including single-card multiplayer as hurting your overall sales. I think that it would actually help them out in this case. Unfortunately, many Americans will never even try this title because of its cutesy visuals. They will never even get to experience the addictive gameplay of this series. Getting them to try multiplayer could even help sales of this title.
The DS again shows that it can handle 2D games impressively. The artwork is crisp and high quality. The color palette of the DS is put to good use, bringing to life the adorable, pastel world of Mr. Driller. The soundtrack is pretty average for a handheld title. The amazing sound system of the system blasts the tunes in all of their high-quality glory. Too bad the songs themselves are mostly forgettable. For those who enjoy a bit of sound with your handheld games, you'll not be disappointed.
The gameplay lives up the previous titles in this series. It is easy to control and about as responsive as it can be. The bulkiness of the DS makes marathon sessions painful, but for quick bursts it is no problem. You can control the game with the stylus if you want, but I wouldn't recommend it. Using the stylus is awkward and far less responsive than just using the buttons and the d-pad.
For the fledgling Nintendo DS, this just might be the first killer-app we've seen for the system. It isn't an amazing game (or an amazing Mr. Driller game; that goes to the import hit "Mr. Driller Drill Land" for GameCube), but it is great fun and well worth the money if you are an early adopter of the system. Fans of puzzle games (and the Mr. Driller series in particular) should go out and buy this game now.
Overall (not an average): 8