Namco's recent, passionate leap onto the Game Boy Advance means a return to some of the really great Namco properties in handheld form. The company's got some wonderful franchises under its belt, from the old-school such as Pac-Man and Galaga, to the more current classics such as Klonoa and Tekken. Mr. Driller
seems to make many people's lists as a Namco "classic," but I've experienced the design on several platforms and I'll never be able nominate this game design into my personal gaming Hall of Fame. Mr. Driller 2
is clearly a tight and well-playing version of Namco's series, but the title still suffers from the bland and repetitive elements that make the game more of a miss than a hit.
Mr. Driller 2 for the Game Boy Advance may be new in the US, was originally released in Japan several years ago as a launch title for the system, back when Namco was still hot on the handheld scene. A North American version of the game has been held up in a holding pattern waiting for Namco to reapproach the portable market. Now that the company's all gung-ho about the GBA, the game's finally been released stateside, and since Mr. Driller 2 had been developed as a timeless and simple game design you'll never notice the extra couple of years that have aged the product. And even though the Nintendo DS version released last year outclasses it with additional options and wireless network play, the GBA version can still hold its own.
It's a sequel to Mr. Driller, a game that hit arcades years ago and eventually made it onto systems such as the Dreamcast, PlayStation...even the Game Boy Color. The task is basic, but the challenge isn't simple: players drill into a pit of colored blocks to reach the bottom of the hole. What makes the game difficult is the "Tetris-esque" game mechanic of disappearing tiles when they link together while drilling; sometimes creating these cascading combos can help, other times it could be the on-screen character's demise. Players lose a life during the action if A) they get crushed by toppling blocks, or B) run out of air on the descent. Option B can be avoided by grabbing oxygen tanks along the way, but these get scarcer and harder to access the further down into the pit players go.
The sequel isn't all that different from the original game. This update does add a silly little storyline about invading colored blocks, presented with a fully spoken (but horrendously read) introduction. It also introduces a new, mysterious character to the game design that's there more for visual variety than for gameplay. Beyond that, the game modes are essentially the same: Mission mode is a trek across the world to eliminate these "evil" colored blocks, and Time Attack offers up different scenarios that must be completed in a set amount of time. If you snag another copy of the game, an additional system and a link cable, you can also compete one-on-one in a head-to-head battle into the depths of colored blocks and oxygen tanks.
The GBA version goes another few steps further with SRAM that'll save high scores to cart, as well as a nifty and handy function that saves the game anywhere within the action for those times when you absolutely have to take a break and turn off the system. And the gameplay's extended with hidden unlockables as well as a ranking system that's also recorded to cartridge.
But as well-produced as the GBA game is, Mr. Driller 2 is still an action game that misses the target as an old-school style design. There's a bit of strategy involved in getting to the bottom of the pit, but the trek down feels entirely random and full of repetitive buttonmashing that never becomes a "great" or "fun" experience.
©2005, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved