If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that every game is improved by kicking off with its own theme song, and Mr. Driller Drill Land’s got one of the best – sugary, stirring and with just the right touch of sentimentality, it lets you know full well you’re about to have a very good time indeed. And boy does the resulting game deliver on that.
Coming at the end of an outrageously prolific period for Namco’s Project Driller team, Mr. Driller Drill Land was the fourth game in as many years for the Mr. Driller series. Four short years in which a team clearly enamoured with its own creation had poured their hearts into this colourful offspring of Namco classics Baraduke and Dig Dug, with Drill Land acting like a consolidation of all that had gone before in the Driller series. A small shame, then, that it never made its way out of Japan upon its first release on Nintendo’s GameCube in 2002.
A minor miracle, then, that Bandai Namco has revived Mr. Driller Drill Land for a sumptuous remaster for Switch, and given it a global release too. It’s a gorgeous thing – the vector artwork has scaled up beautifully for the Switch, and on a portable screen this thing just pops. That snack-sized gameplay sits just perfectly on Nintendo’s Switch, too, with short sessions backed up by an in-game economy that sees you investing in items and objects in Drill Land’s theme park to help you progress. If you’ve never played a Mr. Driller game before there’s probably no better place to start than this compendium of all that’s great and good about the series.
And if you’ve never played a Mr. Driller game before then you are in for a treat. It’s a puzzle game, primarily, but one with a focus on action – your task is simply to drill down through a blockade of coloured bricks, avoiding falling blocks you unlodge and making the most of colour combos as bricks of similar hues stick together and disappear, all while you keep an eye on a depleting oxygen meter that can be topped up by picking up air pockets. That, at its essence, is it – this is a one-button affair that’s as brash and blunt as its colour palette.
When it’s all in play, though, there’s an exquisite sense of action to Mr. Driller. It’s the puzzle game in its essence, which is to say when things get busy it’s about careful management giving way to blind panic as you leap out of the way of falling blocks and frantically drill towards the air pocket that just might save you. Drill for your life! Drill with everything you’ve got! Like the best arcade games, Mr. Driller employs a handful of simple systems to quickly immerse you in a sense of pure flow. Be the drill!
Drill Land’s masterstroke is how it toys with all that, delivering delicious spins on the formula in the guise of different attractions in the theme park. There’s World Tour, which serves up the vanilla Driller experience, The Hole of Druaga which offers a twist inspired by The Tower of Druaga, another Namco arcade classic, as you hunt down keys and work towards defeating a big bad. There’s Horror Night House, a ghoulish spin on the formula which equips you with holy water to break down spooky blocks, and Star Driller that introduces various collectible items into the fray, while finally – and a personal favourite – there’s Drindy Adventure which sees you exploring a temple and avoiding rolling rocks and spiked traps.
It’s so much fun, and the real draw of Mr. Driller Drill Land is how evident it is the team behind it was having so much fun too. From the artwork of Kaori Shinozaki – a masterclass in early 00s cool – to the bubblegum sounds of Go Shiina and even through to the deep lore presented by its expansive cast of characters and their fully-voiced cutscenes, it’s an infectious energy Mr. Driller Drill Land boasts as its team iterates and experiments with joyous abandon. The end result is a timeless melody that’s been underappreciated for far too long – and what a thrill it is to have this gem so widely available at last.