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[Review] Mr. Driller DrillLand

Posted on June 27, 2020 by (@CampbellSGill) in Reviews, Switch

Mr. Driller DrillLand

System: Switch (eShop)
Release date: June 25, 2020
Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco

Mr. Driller DrillLand is a relic of a lost time. Initially released in 2002 on the GameCube in Japan, this classic entry in the Mr. Driller series is finally arriving in the rest of the world for the first time through this remastered release on Switch. It feels like a swansong to the classic arcade puzzle game formula – it has all the simplicity, penny-pinching difficulty, and endless addictive qualities that have made arcade games so memorable for decades, all polished up to perfection thanks to its immaculate audio-visual presentation and excellent gameplay variety. And with new HD visuals and a few modern adjustments in the Switch version, there’s never been a better time to dig in.

Mr. Driller DrillLand does have a story, one that is silly and ultimately inconsequential but adds some much-appreciated context. It stars Mr. Driller and his friends as they are invited to a mysterious new drill-themed amusement park. While they enjoy the many diverse attractions, it’s not long before they sense that not everything is as it should be. To get to the bottom of this mystery, they do the only natural thing in this situation: play every attraction in the amusement park until they discover the truth.

Mr. Driller DrillLand

DrillLand has the same block-breaking scheme found in other Mr. Driller games: keep digging down through the blocks below you and try to stack combos of same-colored blocks. Blocks will disappear if you can connect four or more of the same color, which can often clear a path for you or – as is often the case if you’re racing against the clock – allow the blocks above you to come crashing down on your head, spelling a quick game over in many cases. It’s a simple, yet devilishly addictive formula that challenges you to think about every move while working quickly against the clock to stack up the highest combos.

Thanks to the amusement park setting, there’s a great deal of variety introduced to the formula. Each attraction puts its spin on the Mr. Driller style: some are fairly vanilla and task you with drilling to the bottom as quickly as possible, while others might require you to gather certain items and defeat enemies. Each mode feels unique but has the same Mr. Driller charm.

The main thing to mention here is that the game is hard – at times, cruelly so. The Mr. Driller series began at the arcade, and its punishing penny-pinching origins show sometimes throughout DrillLand. While it’s not too difficult to beat the main story within an hour, dozens of new levels are unlocked after the credits roll, all of which dial the difficulty up significantly. Thankfully, however, this difficulty bump rarely feels unfair. It merely demands that you think quickly to preserve yourself and dig a way through each level. It’s challenging, but when you finally do overcome, it feels that much more satisfying. Better yet, this remastered release includes a new “casual” mode that lowers the difficulty, making it that much more accessible to a wider assortment of players.

Easily the most surprising aspect of Mr. Driller is how good the presentation is. It looks and feels like a Saturday morning cartoon. Characters have an angular, flat design that’s similar to early-2000s cartoons like Dexter’s Lab and My Life as a Teenage Robot, and from its anime opening to its cutscenes to its Japanese voiceovers, the game is bursting with color, charm, and liveliness. Maybe the in-game character art might remind modern players of low-budget flash games, but it suits the game admirably and looks wonderful in action. The visuals remain largely untouched from the GameCube original, aside from the inherent sharpening due to the transition to HD, but it doesn’t need much more than that thanks to the quality art direction and visual personality.

When it comes to the aesthetics, DrillLand’s music simply has no right to be as good as it is. DrillLand is a silly, cartoony puzzle game, but its soundtrack is filled with epic anthems, orchestral overtures, funk bops, choral works, and more. If the block-breaking puzzling doesn’t bring you back to every level, then the opportunity to hear the endlessly earwormy main theme song certainly will.

The Verdict

After nearly two decades of languishing in Japanese exclusivity, Mr. Driller DrillLand is finally getting the attention it deserves. It’s a beautiful and elegant arcade puzzler that might seem too hardcore for some modern players, but it never feels cruel and its simplicity makes it endlessly addictive. For a sweet and basic arcade experience that teases you to keep coming back for hours to chase the next high score, Mr. Driller DrillLand is an excellent choice.

Review copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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