Friday, July 19, 2024

Mr. Driller: A Revival Two Decades In The Making

After eighteen long years, Mr. Driller Drill Land finally reaches Western shores via Nintendo and Steam

With the Switch/Steam port of Mr. Driller Drill Land right around the corner, I wanted to take the time to revisit one of my favorite time sinks growing up. Celebrating its 20th anniversary since its original console release in 2000, the Mr. Driller series is the definition of “easy to pick up hard to master.” 

The premise of the game is simple. You are Susumu Hori and your goal is to reach the bottom of each zone by drilling through colored blocks. However, the deeper you traverse underground, the lower your air supply will drop. You also drain oxygen quicker by drilling through brown “X” shaped blocks. If your oxygen tank reaches zero, you lose a life. There are also unstable blocks that will linger above you as you carve a path. If they fall on top of you, you also lose a life. You restore oxygen by collecting oxygen tanks as well as various helpful powerups to help you navigate through the treacherous underground.

The series was popular in Japan yet its history in North America was complex. The first game in the series, Mr. Driller, was released in North America and Japan in 2000 on the PlayStation and Dreamcast. The sequel, Mr. Driller 2, was released a year later on the Game Boy Advance, but it was a Japanese exclusive. The game was delayed for an American release for four years until it’s eventual release in 2005. 

During this time, two more games, Mr. Driller G and Mr. Driller A, were released in 2001 on the PlayStation and the Game Boy Advance in 2002 respectively. Sadly, both games were once again Japan-exclusive. However, the latter game was used as a companion game to the Gamecube title — Mr. Driller Drill Land. 

Prior to Mr. Driller 2 having an American release in 2005, the only Mr. Driller game to be released in North America was the very first game. That would change in 2004 with the release of Mr. Driller Drill Spirits, released as one of the launch titles for the Nintendo DS in 2004. 

After this, Mr. Driller games steadily started to come stateside, with Mr. Driller Online for Xbox Live Arcade in 2008, Mr. Driller W for the WiiWare in 2009, and Mr. Driller Drill Til You Drop for the Nintendo DSi. Three games were released back-to-back and all three were what I like to call, “showcase titles,” for each of the platforms they were on. If you had an Xbox and had a passing interest in Mr. Driller, there was a game for you there. If you had a Wii, bingo. A DSi? Hope you don’t mind…another barebones Mr. Driller experience!

To think… The final original Mr. Driller game, was a DSiWare title.

See, the year 2009 was the last year that we’ve seen a Mr. Driller release. This makes the Nintendo Switch and Steam port of Drill Land the first new Mr. Driller game in over 10 years! You thought the four-year wait for Mr. Driller 2 on the GBA was a wait? We had to wait almost two decades for a Western release of Drill Land!

Perhaps the arrival of a new Mr. Driller was imminent. The lead designer of the series, Minoru Sashida, provided his talents for another well-known Bandai Namco game, Tekken. This time as an unlockable panel art for Lars Alexandersson.

So, while many AAA titles are releasing during this time, this game catches my eye because it’s a beloved franchise that I’ve only played very little of. I’ve clocked so many hours in the first game as a kid. The colorful graphics, unique music, and addicting gameplay was enough to turn my brain off when I needed to unwind. When I bought Mr. Driller Online the day I first received my Xbox 360 on my birthday, my game time was fueled by nostalgia for my childhood. 

Since its inception, there have been many quirky characters introduced in the series. You have Susumu’s dog, Puchi. Susumu’s rival, Anna. Susumu’s older brother, Ataru.

And the protagonist of Dig Dug, Taizo a.k.a Susumu’s dad.

Yes, the protagonist of the 80s arcade classic, Dig Dug, is the father of our protagonist for Mr. Driller. Let me tell you. 16 year old me was shook the moment I realized this bit of trivia. But this is only the half of it.

Susumu’s mother, Masuyo Tobi is otherwise better known by her nickname, Kissy. Kissy was the protagonist of another 80s arcade classic, Baraduke

Let this sink in for a moment. The protagonist of Mr. Driller, a modern Namco classic, is the son of two protagonists from prominent Namco arcade classics. Personally speaking, I think nods to other games such as these make for awesome trivia. It’s really cool to know that Susumu’s parents both have a hand of dealing with intergalactic threats with a digging tool and a blaster rifle respectfully.

This also makes the wait for Drill Land worth it. Most regard this game as the best game in the series, caked with content and replay value. It was unfortunate that we’ve had to wait almost twenty years for the game to arrive state-side, but, better late than never yeah? What are your guys’ thoughts on it? Are you as excited to drill through life’s troubling difficulties—I mean—drill through colored blocks to reach our goals as much as I am?

Mr. Driller Drill Land will release on the Nintendo Switch and Steam on June 24th 2020.