Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lookin' back - Mr. Driller G

Mr. Driller G is the third game in a Namco-developed puzzle game series that seems to have dropped off the face of the map around 2004 or so. The first game in the series, released back in 1999, bombed miserably in the US despite a pretty big push from Namco, but was popular enough in Japan to foster several sequels, only a few of which made it to American shores. Mr. Driller G was not one of those games (it was released for the Japanese Playstation in 2001), but I decided to take a look at it anyway. I'm... regretting it now, but here goes!

The original Mr. Driller's core play mechanics have remained nearly unchanged through the many iterations of the series: starting from the surface, drill through the fruitcake-like depths of the earth to reach a certain depth. Like-colored blocks will stick together and can be drilled away at once, while the brown "x" blocks require more drilling to remove and will also drain your supply of oxygen. Besides these basic rules, the flow of the game consists of rushing to the bottom without being "crushed like a frickin' omelette", while also making sure to pick up oxygen capsules to prevent a case of Surprisingly Adorable Asphyxiation.

Unfortunately for me, Mr. Driller G is a lot like its sequels on the Gamecube, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, which means I don't have a lot to talk about! There's Mission Driller mode, where you start at one of several different cities with the aim of drilling to a specific depth. There's Time Attack Driller, which is pretty self-explanatory. Finally, there's Scenario Driller, which is... pretty boring.

Well, that's not entirely fair! It's got some things going for it, aesthetically. Structurally, it's set up to look like a series of episodes in a hypothetical Mr. Driller cartoon show. What's odd is that it takes some of its stylistic cues from Clutch Cargo, or any cheaply produced work of American television animation from the 50s and 60s, instead of from Japanese animation of the same time frame. They only went halfway, with the voice acting and dialogue being entirely Japanese, but it's an interesting choice, regardless.

Anyway, that's the interesting part. The boring part: Scenario Driller eschews the speed and skill-focused play mechanics of the other game modes. Normally, your oxygen supply decreases at a constant rate, effectively serving as a time limit. In Scenario Driller, however, your oxygen decreases by a set amount every time you drill through a block, and serves as a limit on your movement, instead.

The other big change is the inclusion of "Dristones," which appear a little more often than oxygen capsules, and have a variety of effects - destroying all like-colored blocks on the screen, changing one color block to another, refilling your oxygen, etc.

Unfortunately, their implementation is clumsy. To use a dristone, you have to open up a separate menu and make a selection, which kills any flow the game may have had. The result is stuttering and boring, in addition to being a little unnecessarily time consuming when compared to the rest of the game. Kind of a shame, but I'm sure that there are also people out there who really dig dristone mode. Hmmm.

All the modes are complemented with a really wonderful, almost over-produced soundtrack, courtesy of Go Shigo and Tomoko Tatsuya, the game's sound design guys. They really outdid themselves, to the point where they smartly decided to reuse the music from G in Drill Land, a sequel to this series released on the Gamecube in 2002. And hey, thank goodness, because while there are no videos of G on youtube, there are plenty of Drill Land. It's a very similar game, with a lot of the same music, so it should suffice as a video demonstration of what G's all about.

On Thursday: Professor Layton and the Curious Village gets a stern high-five.


Matt Brown said...

Badass-Japanese Dig-Doug never looked so appealing. Can't wait for your thoughts on Layton! I hear it's brilliant. All praise Level 5!

BBH said...

wow, Scenario Driller does sound horrible. I haven't played Mr. Driller G, just the arcade version of Mr. Driller 2 (Ground Kontrol has it) and the DS version. Even on the DS version I'm not that interested in time attack or Pressure mode, I just prefer to play the main modes and go for better scores (which also annoys me about the DS version, as it only saves one score per character for each stage, a general scoreboard would have been nicer)

Jason Moses said...

Yeah, G is really nice in that regard - I was playing it on my PSP when I wrote this entry, and the main modes are perrrfect. I'm surprised Namco hasn't made an actual PSP Mr. Driller yet, or at least, I would be if the series didn't seem to be just about dead.

I should probably go see if the european version of Drill Spirits has a non-gimped scoreboard, too, since they added a lot of stuff like that to the non-US versions, for some reason.