Mr. Driller Drill Spirits (Nintendo DS) - Review by Andrew
The DS hasn't exactly been short of puzzlers in its short life and Mr. Driller joins Polarium, Zoo Keeper and the collection of brain teasers included with Mario 64 to appease all those gamers who prefer to pause for thought before blasting away the opposition. Mr. Driller is no stranger to Nintendo either, appearing on almost all the various formats since the start of the century as well as a number of other consoles. What's most notable about him though is the fact that he's always stayed faithful to his puzzle roots with not a 3D adventure, platformer, pinball game or kart outing in sight. No, it's always been about drilling with err... Mr. Driller and there's no arguing that's obviously what he does best. The question is 'is the DS the best place for it?'
Like most successful puzzlers Dr. Driller is based on an incredibly simple concept. You must drill into the ground to a pre-determined depth in order to clear a level. Tackle the next to a greater depth and so on. Initially this is without problems because whilst the blocks are of various colors they are all made of the same soft material. Go a little deeper though and the occasional block will take a little more effort so you can either spend more time drilling or simply go around it. This can present its own set of dangers though because, although you've avoided it on one level, the very same block may crush you only seconds later. Other problems occur as you get deeper, one area of concern being air or rather the fact that you can quickly run out of this essential resource. Fortunately this can be overcome by collecting air capsules, as well as avoiding some rather sinister blocks that require more effort (and therefore more air) to drill through.
This new DS version offers several modes apart from the straight puzzler described above. The best of these is Pressure Driller where not only must you continue drilling down to avoid the mechanical driller pursuing you but also you must also collect power capsules in order to eventually destroy it. There's also the self-explanatory Time Attack Mode and the rather disappointing Multi-player bash. Disappointing, because not only does it require two copies of the game to enjoy but it's also a simple case of finishing first without any of the variety of some of the game's other sections. One final and welcome addition is the inclusion of more drilling characters with very different strengths and abilities. These aren't all available at the game's start however, but only after success in various areas.
Like most DS Puzzlers you can use both buttons and the touch screen for most of the various functions but, unlike Zoo Keeper, your actual gameplay control may be chosen for you because of the touch screen shortcomings. Scroll down to the 'Dual Screen Use' section to see exactly what we mean.
As usual with puzzlers the visuals are functional rather than anything that could demonstrate the graphical power of the machine and there's nothing on display here that could not easily be done on a GBA. That's not to say that it's not pleasing though, especially as everything stays true to the Mr. Driller Universe. Animation is at a minimum with the developers choosing to simply shift graphics around the screen rather than produce smoothly animated characters. Again this all works pretty well and, given that the focus here is on the clarity of the screen, these cosmetic enhancements are just a bonus really.
Like in Zoo Keeper the audio is of little importance and that seems to be just how the developers have approached it. Simple melodies with original voice samples thrown in for good measure which neither amaze or annoy.
There are both good and bad things to say about this DS adaptation of Mr. Driller with the positives just outweighing the negatives. For starters the dual screen gives you a much greater play area and although the top half is not interactive, it does help by allowing you to plan ahead, and those few extra seconds can be used to avoid being squashed or (in the case of the Pressure Driller Mode) caught up in a rather nasty drill bit. There's also intelligent use of the menu systems (either button activated or touch screen) allowing you to access information, such as high scores or level objectives, from both screens. It doesn't work in the gameplay department however and although Drill Spirits was no doubt designed so the stylus could be used exclusively, it's just not precise enough for you to move as quickly as you think making the touch screen experience a little on the frustrating side.
Mr. Driller has always had an incredibly strong fan base and it's these gamers who will most likely be won over by Drill Spirits. It's not that the game doesn't have broad appeal it's just that the whole experience lacks the instant accessibility of Zoo Keeper or Polarium. As far as a DS release goes the franchise definitely benefits from the extended view bringing a new element of strategy to the proceedings. The touch screen use however is considerably more problematic and as with Ridge Racer you're likely to dump this in favor of a more traditional approach after the first sitting. Overall though Drill Spirits is an enjoyable puzzler but with the DS already boasting a handful of similar titles it's definitely a 'try before you buy'.
Pro: Very Accessible Game.
Con: Not Enough Variety.
Final score: 7