Originally envisioned as a third entry in the arcade classic Dig Dug franchise, Mr. Driller made its debut in arcades back in 1999 followed by a few different home releases. The series has since had multiple releases in the series, with the most well received by far being Mr. Driller DrillLand for the GameCube. While the best entry in the series, the game remained a Japanese exclusive since its release back in 2002, but now the rest of the world is finally getting a chance to experience the game in the HD remaster Mr. Driller DrillLand.
Mr. Driller DrillLand very quickly introduces you to the very cartoony cutscenes that are found throughout the game, which very much fits the aesthetic found all throughout the Mr. Driller series. There’s nothing amazing about these cutscenes, but they are fun enough as a way to explain what is happening in the game and definitely look more polished than ever thanks to the HD visuals.
Drill Land itself is a theme park with multiple different attractions for you to try out, with some being rather similar and some being a bit different from the others. There are six total attractions, with only five of them having actual levels for you to participate in. These five are known as World Drill Tour, Star Driller, Drindy Adventure, Horror Night House, and The Hole of Druaga, each of which presenting a different theme and atmosphere overall.
Regardless of which of the five attractions you select, the gameplay is pretty standard across the board, with some little changes to differentiate themselves from one another. For each driller you control, you must aim in a direction with the use of the left analog stick and then press A to break a block and any blocks of the same color that it is currently touching. Doing this will causes plenty of blocks to drop though, with you having to be very careful to not get crushed underneath any of them. All stages have you maneuver your way downward, as you can only climb on one nearby block, but not upward in any other way while playing. This can get quite difficult at times, so a new Casual Mode was introduced to help players that would prefer a more laid back experience.
World Drill Tour and Star Driller are almost identical, where you must drill downward until you make your way through five rooms of 100m each. The mechanic in both of these are that you only have a certain amount of air available that counts down as time goes by, which means you have to find air capsules throughout to recover your health. Certain blocks will also cause you to lose air, so you have to be careful not to be trapped. Star Driller adds in a special block that makes things interesting, but for the most part these two are pretty much the same. Compared to the rest, these are the most standard levels and serve as good introductory levels for you to try out.
Drindy Adventure takes a similar approach to the prior two attractions, but tasks you with collecting special gold statues along the way. Dangerous boulders are very common here though and can make things a lot more difficult. As a result, this felt like a pretty natural progression of the first two attractions with the added difficulty of needing to find the gold statues on top of just making it to the bottom. With the setting and collecting of treasure, this almost felt like Spelunky before Spelunky ever existed. Similarly, Horror Night Adventures takes the basic mechanics found in the others and introduces ghosts that try to come after you. By finding Holy Water items scattered around the map, you can defeat these ghosts and collect gems that are necessary to complete the attraction.
The last main attraction is easily the most complex, which is known as the Hole of Druaga. This one is not only a puzzle, but has some RPG elements built into it as you make your way down the stage while collecting items and defeating enemies. This one is made up of multiple rooms that you have to traverse by either going left, right, or down where you must find a key and then make your way to the door to use it on. The problem here is that every drill you make lowers you HP, so you must use HP recovery items you find to survive. Eventually, you will make your way to a boss that you have to take down by either using the blocks associated with its color or use certain items you collected again it. Due to its complexity, Hole of Druaga is easily the best of the attractions and will likely take you the longest to beat.
Once you complete the first level of each of the five main attractions, trouble will strike Drill Land and force you into another boss fight. This requires you to move downward as fast as you can after a robotic contraption that is after you. By defeating this boss, you will then unlock additional difficulty levels for each of the attractions, with there being three levels and a special level for each of the attractions that you can visit.
Mr. Driller DrillLand also includes a special sixth attraction known as Dreamin’ Parade, but it’s really not anything even worth checking out. You literally just control a parade with the analog stick and can press A to whistle while it’s going on. There’s nothing puzzle related to this one, so there’s no real need to try it beyond the first time.
Besides the main attractions, Mr. Driller DrillLand also has an area known as Drill Town that you can visit. Drill Town consists of six different buildings, which includes three shops, the Music Palace, Movie Theater, and the Drillland Library. The Card Shop lets you spend Bits you have earned on Driller Card packs, each of which have three cards inside, while the Goods store offers souvenirs you can purchase. Both of these are pretty useless in the long run, but they are fine to include. More importantly, the Item Shop is available for when you are struggling to complete any of the different attractions by offering things such as extra lives to start and the ability to move faster, with each level having items specifically for it available. The Music Palace and Movie Theater let you listen to the game’s music and watch the cinematics respectively, while the Drillland Library lets you read up the different attractions and Drill Land as a whole.
While there may be a good bit of single player content found in the game, Mr. Driller DrillLand also has multiplayer options as well for you to play with your friends. These include Race Mode that has you trying to make it down a 500m course first, while Battle Mode has you competing against one another for medals. Each of these can be done with 2-4 players, but it is exclusively for offline play. Considering how this was a remaster, the least they could have done was add some sort of online support here. Even so, these can be a lot of fun with friends as a quick party game to setup and play.
It was always quite disappointing that the Mr. Driller game that Japan considered the best in the series never made it to the West, so it is great to see that finally change with the HD remaster of Mr. Driller DrillLand. The game is pretty much as it was found on the GameCube with some visual upgrades to the UI and the added portability on the Nintendo Switch. While the game definitely isn’t for everybody, Mr. Driller DrillLand shows what the series is capable of when it is at its best and how it still manages to hold up 18 years later.
Finally making its way out of Japan for the first time, Mr. Driller DrillLand is still the best entry in this niche puzzle franchise and fits right at home on the Nintendo Switch.