For years, Mr. Driller fans have been saddled with a tough pitch. “You should really play the best one! But… it’s only out in Japan on the GameCube.” Mr. Driller DrillLand expanded what the game could be, and then it did it a few more times on the same disc. There’s as much gameplay packed into one release as there’s been in all the other installments combined. And it was so difficult to access and play.
Mr. Driller DrillLand, now available on Nintendo Switch and PC, brings the series’ block-drilling gameplay to a theme park setting, with the varied modes each pitched as a separate attraction. Of the five main modes, World Drill Tour will be the most familiar, as it’s the “this is your normal Mr. Driller” option in the bunch. It certainly plays it safe, but for a game to be the ultimate collection, it sort of needs the normal game too. That said, there’s variety here if you want it. This mode allows you to choose one of six characters, each bringing different move speed, drill speed or some sort of special ability. Like Puchi the dog, who can jump high! Or Horinger-Z, a robot who can survive being crushed under blocks once per run!
Star Driller is a space-themed mode that feels fairly similar, but it brings in items that shake things up, and it uses some color distribution and pacing tricks to feel fresh while still being the sort of game fans of Mr. Driller would like. You’d expect a game in space to be the most about the time-based air management, but it doesn’t go too far in that direction. Instead, its challenge lies in being perhaps less predictable.
The biggest departure from the formula is The Hole of Druaga. It’s a thinky adventure with item inventory, keys and monsters that swaps time pressure for managing your limited number of actions. You’ll need to collect Dristones, gems with special powers, and combine them to defeat Druaga once you’ve gotten through the stages’ locks and monsters. Based on Namco classic The Tower of Druaga, this is definitely a punishing mode to appeal to fans of that notoriously difficult game. Still, though, the lifting of the time constraint lets you consider your actions carefully in a way Mr. Driller generally doesn’t offer.
Drindy Adventure feels like an Indiana Jones-style romp to avoid traps and slip by obstacles. Your goal is to gather the gold statues and escape, while avoiding hurting yourself along the way. It eschews both the time limit and the drill limit, so you’d expect it to be even more calculated than The Hole of Druaga. Instead, though, you’ll often be rushed into action by rolling boulders you’ve carelessly freed, and the result is a stop-and-go sort of play. You’ll need to use the permanent structures and remaining blocks to redirect the boulders and get out unscathed.
Every theme park needs something spooky, so Horror Night House steps into that role here. In this mode, you’ll find a container of holy water, then use your drill to spread it across an area of blocks to trap ghosts and defeat them to collect crystals. In this way, it often feels like Horror Night House is a series of instanced encounters separated by an evasion sequence. It’s an intentionally low-contrast board, lighting up when you spread holy water but otherwise making you never fully sure you’re seeing everything. That might be less accessible for some, but it’s done here with a specific purpose, and the sharper visuals of this re-release do help with clarity.
Outside of the five main attractions, the theme park setting of Mr. Driller DrillLand is populated with little shops and side activities to give it that authentic feel. There are both fun little collectibles and items that actually help you beat levels if you need them, so some may find more utility here than others. There’s even a library that lets players read up on the plots of the franchise. The weirdest little bonus is Dreamin’ Parade, which presents itself as a full menu item like the other modes but just lets you speed up, slow down and play a flute along with a passing parade.
The original GameCube release was known for its rough difficulty that kept some players from being able to make it through even with the help of items. For this re-release, the one major change was the introduction of a Casual difficulty for the single-player options. Things have been re-tuned to be manageable, but they’re still far from a cakewalk for fresh players. You’ll get the intended sort of experience this way without putting in the hours for mastery, and that will appeal to many.
Mr. Driller DrillLand was a stylish game for its time, even building upon the vibe of the earlier-but-still-impressive Mr. Driller releases. The aesthetic has been lovingly preserved and restored here, down to the sometimes-Engrish decorative text and small flourishes. Slightly spreading things out horizontally on the screen does have a diluting effect at times to the intended, crowded feel, but all in all, this approach works as well as you’d hope.
In the modes themselves, the presentation is largely letterboxed, as the levels were built with specific widths and viewing distances in mind. With how much care went into the surrounding wrapper, this is understandable and excusable, and each mode’s decoration matches the in-game assets well enough.
Also peculiar is its local multiplayer functionality. The speed-digging Race and medal-searching Battle modes return here, and they play as well as they ever have. What’s interesting is that these are branded “Offline Match,” and the menu’s spacing feels like it was designed with the intent of more options. Is online play planned in the future? Was this something scrapped during development? It’s hard to say. As it stands, the local play is a blast, but we can’t help being intrigued by these hints.
Mr. Driller DrillLand released on June 25, 2020. It’s available on the Nintendo Switch eShop and Steam for $29.99.