Mr. Driller Online
System: XBOX 360
Cost: 800 points (approx. £7)
By: Namco Bandai
A game with pedigree, Mr. Driller Online is the latest incarnation of a series spanning countless platforms over the last decade, with its roots in the arcade classic Dig Dug.
Giving no indication that it ever intends to explain itself, the game demands that you drill your way downwards through vertical courses crammed full of coloured blocks and items. At the most basic level it's all about making it to the end of the course without perishing, either by running out of air or by being crushed by falling rocks, dislodged by your no-doubt cavalier approach to digging. This basic level offers plenty of excitement, with dramatic last minute dashes for oxygen tanks and harrowing escapes from falling rocks. At a higher level of play the game resembles a Tetris clone, forcing you to pick out patterns in the rocks and dig strategically to create colour-matching combos and rack up the high scores.
As with most Tetris clones, new players faced with the chaos of falling rocks might struggle to imagine themselves finding any order in the madness, but play for long enough and the techniques will reveal themselves to your subconscious. Colour matching puzzles are perhaps an overrepresented genre on Live Arcade, but Mr. Driller Online sets itself apart by giving you direct control over an avatar within the game world, rather than presenting you with an entirely abstract world of blocks as found in Tetris or Lumines.
The core game play is complemented by a fair amount of variety, with a choice of different characters, an alternative single player mode and a couple of online modes. The character selection invokes memories of other classic Japanese puzzle games like Puzzle Fighter or Bust-A-Move, where a roster of unnervingly cute characters each with slightly different strengths and weaknesses serve to confound newcomers and delight experts. One of the characters is a dog who has no drill, and as best as I can tell makes blocks disappear through sheer force of will, so that’s something. The alternative single player mode, Quest Driller, issues the player with specific survival conditions for each 100 metres of drilling. It seems charitable to describe these rather unadventurous instructions as ‘quests’, but they do add a little variety to proceedings by forcing you to alter your playing style on the fly; a good idea, but slightly underwhelming.
The new online multiplayer offerings are worthy of note, offering both a straightforward multiplayer race version of the standard single player mode and a Tag Battle mode in which players work in teams of two, cooperating and sharing air supplies as necessary. Such rousing camaraderie aside, the potential of the multiplayer modes is held back by occasional lag which is hard to ignore, and what seems to be a dearth of available players. A week after the game’s release both ranked and unranked quick match attempts are fruitless more often than not.
Mr. Driller Online has a typically Japanese approach to presentation which will either delight or repulse depending on your disposition. Navigating the menus feels essentially the same as having your consciousness melded with that of a nine year old girl on a sugar high, but in comparison to the drab lifelessness of so many Live Arcade titles this type of energetic presentation is not entirely unwelcome. The music is particularly brisk, a sort of tireless, exuberant jazz which doesn’t grate nearly as much as that description might make you think. The only time the game’s shiny presentation shows signs of strain is during game play itself, with the slightly blurry sprites betraying the title’s heritage.
As a game in its own right Mr. Driller Online is as good as the series has always been, but as a new addition it’s hard to get excited about. The Quest Driller mode offers insufficient variety to be a meaningful addition to single player, and the spotty online multiplayer and lack of any kind of local multiplayer is discouraging. Nevertheless, if the core game play grabs you then the standard single player mode alone will give you plenty to do, and if a unique mix of tunnelling and Tetris appeals, Mr. Driller Online is probably worth your 800 points.