I remember back when Namco was supposedly publishing a new, top secret game for the Dreamcast. Hot on the heels of Soulcalibur, the collective gaming culture had no idea what else Namco would pull from their nostalgic bag of tricks. Then Mr. Driller appeared, and everyone got sad. On the cusp of the next generation, Namco was cranking out a simple puzzle game that looked like it could have been released ten years ago. Of course, after actually playing it, it turned out Driller was smart, addictive game with the potential for infinite replayability – but that seemed not to matter in an age where graphics were a game’s defining characteristic. Anyway, Namco’s now released a version of Mr. Driller for the iPhone and iPod Touch; let’s see how it turned out.
We Need to Drill
Having suffered through eight iterations on everything from the original Playstation to WiiWare, the basic mechanics of Mr. Driller have taken some twists and turns. The basic rules in this version remain simple. You’re Susumu Hori, a little guy with a drill. This drill has one concrete action, to destroy colored blocks that surround you. Plopped down onto a vertical column, you’re tasked with “drilling” to a depth of 500 or 1000 meters. The challenge lies with destroying the blocks in such a manner that they don’t immediately fall on top of you and crush you.
A few wrinkles are thrown in for good measure. First, blocks of the same color will automatically fuse stick together. While this allows you to instantly dissolve all like colored blocks with one drill, it can also be quite helpful for saving your ass; countless times I would watch the blocks above me start to fall, only to be instantly absorbed by a like-colored block it passed on its way down (whew!). Mr. Driller is also burdened with a limited air supply (basically a re-skined timer), which can be replenished via out-of-the-way refills as your drill your way down.
The arcade mode could be considered the standard, but a couple other modes are present. Survival mode, as best I can tell because I am horrible at Mr. Driller, is a never ending chasm spread out over three difficulty levels. Time attack mode changes the music and shuffles you through ten different “locations” (like Egypt or Outer Space) and sets clock pickups on the way down that remove a few seconds off your timer. At first I assumed they basically reskinned the game and simply replaced the air pickups with blocks, but, after playing through a couple of the levels, I changed my tune. Clock placement is deliberate, and engineered in such a way that trying to collect all of them will render your doom if you’re not careful.
If you’ve ever played an iPhone game that requires you to move around, the fidelity of the controls is an omnipresent make or break decision regarding a purchase. Driller looks to address this with three separate control types. The first and most obvious is to map a dpad to the lower left hand corner. Next comes using the tilt sensor to move Mr. Driller left and right, and the last comes with swiping your finger left and right on the bottom portion of the screen to move Mr. Driller left and right. The dpad works best unless you have Shaq hands, or are prone to slippage and unnecessary thumb travel. If that’s the case, the seemingly awkward swipe method wasn’t too bad, but the tilt sensor option was a fool’s errand.
On the presentation end, Mr. Driller faired quite well. The entire aesthetic has the unmistakably Japanese charm of a fever dream, and the music does will to compliment the bright and cheery visuals. The pause between the loops of the constantly repeating track in arcade mode was a bummer, though. While it’s miniscule, it’s a little bit more impressive when you consider the game is only $1.99.
(Notes: Namco’s website says it’s .99, but as of 9/18/09, the App Store lists it as $1.99. Additionally, several users’ reviews reported the game crashed frequently, but, even when interrupted by a call, the game remained stable on my 3GS).