Back in the era of Nintendo GameCube, the video game industry was still very much segmented by country, whereby it wasn’t always assured that Japanese developed games would release in other parts of the world. This had been the case since the early days of the Famicom and NES, where only a fraction of titles released in Japan ever made it across the Pacific. Sure, some of that remains true today, but for the most part the video game scene has evolved to the point where many fantastic titles release across all regions. Thanks to no region locking on any of the current major consoles (including the Switch), it’s fairly easy to purchase games even if they never release over here these days.
That totally wasn’t the case during the GameCube era and many fantastic titles were overlooked for localization because, well let’s face it, the system wasn’t selling all that well in any market. One such casualty was Mr. Driller DrillLand, released in the Japanese market but nowhere else. To make matters worse, in addition to the region locking of the consoles this game had an extra layer of security that pretty much meant you had to own a Japanese GameCube to even boot it up. In other words, the vast majority of gamers outside of Japan never had a chance to see what all the fuss was about. Until now, that is!
I haven’t played a ton of Mr. Driller games over the past 20 years and the ones I have messed around with (mostly the DS and GBA games) were in casual play sessions while visiting friends and whatnot. Although I am a puzzle game lover, the concept of the game just never resonated with me for some reason. However, when Mr. Driller DrillLand was announced as coming to the Switch eShop I did a bit of research and discovered that it was one of those much-sought after GameCube games that never made it over to our shores and that piqued my interest. Little did I know that I would become enthralled in the process.
The game is setup like a theme park with several different attractions to visit. Each of these is actually a variation on the Mr. Driller puzzle gameplay mechanics and as such this sort of feels like a really awesome compilation of games that make the puzzle solving aspects unique to each venue. The core idea of Mr. Driller is that you’re supposed to drill from the top of the screen all the way to the bottom of the shaft. This is exactly what you’ll find in the World Drill Tour attraction. Here the screen scrolls down as you make your way deeper into the level and you basically have a time limit that is marked by how much air you have left and this is constantly draining as you dig further. You have to be on the lookout for air capsules to avoid suffocation and also need to avoid breaking an X block or you’ll lose a massive 20 units air.
As you break blocks around you others will fall into the gaps, and if you’re able to line up four blocks of the same color they’ll all disappear. Obviously this creates opportunities for you to strategically break certain blocks to get others to fall in line and create a sort of chain to eliminate multiple blocks all at once. But, you’ll have to pay special attention to the blocks above your head as you don’t want to be squished and lose a life! Trust me, this can get very complicated quite quickly and because of that this is a bit more difficult than the traditional Tetris puzzlers out there. As you’re avoiding the dreaded brown X blocks that will drain your air you’ll want to keep an eye on their positions because they can be eliminated by layering at least four together as well.
This specific game requires you dig 500 meters to clear the stage. Thankfully you do have the option of selecting an easier difficulty level to get your brain primed and ready for the real deal. Also, in this specific attraction you can select from various characters and some of them have special powers, like the ability to move quicker or even jump up two spots to make it easier to dig in just the right spots.
As I mentioned there are various attractions to play and so I’ll go over the various ones included and the gameplay tweaks included. The first one I actually played was called The Hole Of Druaga, which I instantly recognized from the Tower of Druaga series that I’ve played on previous Namco Museum collections. Here the evil demon Druaga has created a labyrinth under the castle and you must save the Priestess Kial. Somewhere in one of the rooms (playfields) is a key that you need to unlock a door and defeat the evil lord. The time limit is gone in this puzzler, but every time you drill you lose 1 HP so you’ll need to be on the lookout for potions to refill your gauge. If you get hit by a falling brick you lose 20 HP so be careful out there! In sort of an RPG twist you’ll also be able to find Drillstones that you can equip and use to increase your chances of survival, like changing all of the block from one color to another. There are also enemies scattered about that you’ll have to dispatch with your drill. I quite liked this mode as it felt like a cross between the traditional puzzle mechanics and an adventure game.
The next mode is Horror Night House where you have to dig your way out to escape the horrors. You’ll have to collect 20 Drystals from the mansion’s ghosts, which you have to avoid unless you douse them with holy water to weaken them first. The catch is that you can only hold one jar of water at a time, so you have to make it count when taking out the spectral forces! Interestingly enough, this mode doesn’t allow for a group of four or more blocks to disappear, so it takes a bit of rewiring your brain to play this mode. Ghosts will float around the screen and if they’re inside a block you won’t want to destroy it unless you first inject it with the holy water. Doing so beforehand will zap your health. I’m a huge horror movie/game fan so I quite liked the atmosphere of this attraction and had a great time, even if it deviated quite a bit from the normal game.
Drindy Adventure is an obvious ripoff of Indiana Jones. You play as Drindy James and you must explore some ruins to locate ten golden statues and then reach the exit at 500 meters. As you might expect there are a ton of traps and hazards, including spikes, fire, and (you guessed it) boulders that will take away your life. Just like in the previous attraction, joining four blocks of the same color will not cause them to disappear. While I enjoyed my time with this one, it felt a tad bit less puzzle than some of the other ones and thus probably my least played attraction.
In Star Driller you once again need to reach 500 (astral) meters to clear the mission. This time around there are question mark block items that can either help or hinder you progress. Most of the time something good happens so it’s worth nabbing them when you can. This one plays mostly like the standard mode, but you have that element of chance that really adds to the experience. I quite liked playing this one as it seems a bit easier than some of the other modes, so give this one a try if you’re finding some of the other attractions a bit too difficult.
Since this is simply a port of the Japanese GameCube game you might not expect much in the way of improved graphics. For the most part the game looks about the same, except with HD visuals and widescreen support. There are animated cutscenes complete with voice over, but the audio is in Japanese. All of the subtitles, instructions, etc. are in English so it’s not difficult to get around the attractions and whatnot. The game looks pretty enough with bright colors, but nothing that will blow you away.
When it comes to the presentation the real star is this game’s soundtrack. Wow. I’m completely blown away by the fantastic tunes that play in each of the attractions and throughout the game. The music is very upbeat and really reminds me of the heyday of Dreamcast games. Each attraction has a suitable soundtrack and there’s not a bad one in the bunch. I especially love the crazy music that accompanies World Drill Tour, complete with Japanese singing. It almost reminds me of It’s A Small World from Disneyland, and even though I can’t understand what the lyrics are saying, it’s quite catchy and really just warms the soul. I’d almost purchase this game just for the soundtrack alone!
There are two multiplayer modes and both are offline only. The first allows two to four players to race down to the 500 meter mark. The screen is split up so you each get your own playfield. Along the way are question mark blocks that usually hurt your opponents by doing things like turning a bunch of blocks into X blocks and things like that. It can get quite intense amongst friends! The other mode is Battle and here two to four players search for a medal. The first player to nab three of them wins. Everyone shares the same screen and the Joy-Con will begin to vibrate as you get close to one of the medals. When someone finds one the puzzle screen resets and everyone starts anew. I found this mode to be rather boring after a few plays, but the race multiplayer mode is quite fun. A few more multiplayer games would have been appreciated, but I mostly puzzle solo in my games so it wasn’t a big issue for me.
If you’re one of the few people that managed to play this game on the GameCube, from what I understand you’re pretty much getting the same experience with the Switch version and it doesn’t look like any new attractions were added. However, for the 99.9% of the rest of us who haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this wonderful puzzler, do yourself a favor and grab it from the eShop the next chance you get. It’s very entertaining, and while it can be a bit difficult for newcomers, if you stick with it I think you’ll have the hang of it in no time. The core puzzle mechanics are solid and fun and there is enough variation between the attractions to really offer something for everyone. I had a blast playing Mr. Driller DrillLand on the Switch and it’s one of the few games I actually play in handheld mode over TV mode because I can easily get a round in before bed. Fans of the series already know this is a must-have, but if you have even the slightest curiosity about playing a new puzzler, this one gets my stamp of approval.
Mr. Driller DrillLand Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 10/1010/10
- Gameplay - 8.5/108.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 8/108/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Mr. Driller DrillLand took a long time to make it to our shores, but now that it’s here puzzle game fans have a reason to celebrate. With multiple modes of play you get to experience Mr. Driller like never before! The soundtrack is absolutely off the charts and fans of bubbly Japanese music will be in heaven. A lack of online multiplayer and leaderboards slightly hampers the replay value, but don’t let that deter you from nabbing this from the eShop.