I’m about to confess something embarrassing. I didn’t play the Japanese exclusive GameCube title that Mr. Driller DrillLand is a remaster of. So feeling nostalgic over gameplay had me really confused. That is until memories of feeding snow to a chubby polar bear resurfaced. Oh no. I’m getting sentimental over a Neopets flash game. My only hope of recovering my dignity is by loudly exclaiming how much better Mr. Driller DrillLand is than Neopets’ Snowmuncher.
Rose-tinted glasses aside, a puzzle game about digging in a theme park 500 meters underground sounds dull and very brown. Well, guess again. Happy-go-lucky cartoon characters move through a peppy world of pinks, yellows, and baby blues. You’d be forgiven for taking one look, smugly flicking your hair, and exclaiming that it’s a puzzle game for babies. But I’m just here soaking in the wholesome vibes.
Even the story is cutesy. Susumu Hori, his Dig Dug-famous father, and a host of friends are enjoying a day out at Drill Land. Bumbling goons are also attempting to run attractions behind the scenes, which our heroes are amusingly oblivious to. While not overly needed, cutscenes lightly tie everything together without taking focus away from Mr. Driller DrillLand’s main event. The puzzles.
Drill Land theme park features five main attractions, and to put it bluntly, they’re all essentially minor variations of the same base puzzle game. Now I know that sounds like a bit of a cop-out in terms of content, but each attraction is given its own style and theme, and the small changes mean you’ll be approaching from a new angle.
Standard gameplay is about controlling a driller as they tunnel through randomly generated colored blocks, trying to reach the bottom. Just pick a direction and hit A to have that block disappear. Crazy simple right? Well, it would be, if I could dig in a straight line. Obstacles, or required items, means branching off in different directions. Also, blocks of the same color can merge and disappear in awkward chunks. Anything previously supported is going to fall. Normally, these land on my head, because Mr. Driller DrillLand is harder than it first appears.
Attractions can be played in any order, so let’s start with World Drill Tour. Arguably the easiest stage, due to having a choice in playable characters. Go for more speed, higher jumps, or, my favorite, taking less damage from falling blocks. Drillers start with 100 “Air” that both depletes over time and depletes one unit for every block drilled. Additionally, drilling through tough X blocks removes 20 Air, while capsules can give 20 back. Life-saving capsules are often surrounded by X blocks, so quick planning and navigation is key. Now, dig through at least five 100m deep tunnels without getting crushed or suffocating.
As a side note, World Drill Tour’s background music drove me a bit crazy. Mr. Driller DrillLand’s soundtrack is always great at matching the tone for each zone, like Horror Night House’s haunting melody. World Drill Tour is just a bit too cheerful and in my face. Combine it with picking a character who yells ‘Lucky!’ for every item they grab, and you have my sympathies. I’ve seriously started to use the word a lot in my daily life, and now you will too.
Anyway, Star Driller uses the same Air mechanics as before, only now some question mark blocks have appeared. I actually prefer this version, and not just because of a change in music. Question mark blocks have a chance at helping or hindering progress, and they add a nice layer of tension. Am I going to get the black hole that makes a section below me disappear? Maybe I’ll be blasted by a meteor attack that means even more things pop in to fall on my head. I basically take the risk at every opportunity just for the fun of it.
Drindy Adventure and Horror Night House remove the reliance on Air, giving more time to stop and think. Good thing too, because Drindy’s Adventure has me collecting golden relics guarded by death traps. Horror Night House, meanwhile, is about escaping from ghosts until I can grab some holy water and destroy them — hands down my favorite mode. Only one injection of holy water can be carried at a time, but it’s able to kill multiple ghosts if you play your cards right. Take that. So satisfying.
Finally, there’s The Hole of Druaga, with its refreshing RPG-like mechanics. Navigate a maze, fight a dragon for its key, find the boss door, and rescue a princess. Oh, also tunnels are now filled with power gems and adorable tiny enemies. Little minions can be killed via falling blocks or my trusty drill. However, the boss can only be hurt by blasting blocks matching their ever-changing colored aura. To be honest, it’s easier than it sounds. Worst is the HP meter depleting with each block destroyed — exploring multiple rooms makes it easy to hit empty.
Beating the first level of each attraction finishes off Mr. Driller DrillLand’s story with an extra boss stage, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop playing. Level 2 just unlocked. In fact there are four rounds of Mr. Driller DrillLand, with the final one being special, endless versions of each stage. Things get tough. With the same amount of lives, I now have to dig deeper and navigate trickier layouts. Cue a montage of my numerous deaths.
What’s impressive is how I never get frustrated. Well, not at the game, anyway. Dying is pretty much always my fault, usually from moving too slow, too fast, or not paying quite enough attention. My “just one more go” soon turns into “but I was so close” and finally “I’m sitting here until I win.” Learning how to read scenarios and react accordingly is something I’m getting better at all the time, though I have a sneaky suspicion that luck is often involved too. Thanks, random generation.
If you’re worried about difficulty, then Mr. Driller DrillLand has your back. First off, Casual Mode makes each attraction a bit easier — for example, the first stage of Drindy Adventure asks for 10 relics instead of 20. There’s also the opportunity to take trips to Drill Town. Stopping here gives a chance to not only purchase collectibles, but you can also buy cheats with Bits earned during gameplay. They’re mostly consumable items like a bubble barrier to help with falling blocks or a way to get more HP, providing just enough assistance to tip the scales towards victory.
A downside to using cheats is having to forfeit your score after beating a puzzle, which means no online leaderboard ranking. I’m personally not too bothered with leaderboards but was admittedly smug after sneaking a look and seeing I was sixth on Horror Night House. For those wanting to test their skills against friends, there’s also local multiplayer, for up to 4 players. Sadly there are only 2 stages, but hey, it’s fun while it lasts.
Mr. Driller DrillLand is the most popular game in its series for a reason. Having a remake with super cheerful graphics, and letting you take its bite-sized gameplay on-the-go, makes for a great little puzzle package. There’s enough variety in each mode that each comes with their own strategies, enough of a challenge to sink countless hours into, and a blast of cute vibes for good measure.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Bandai Namco.
This remastered version of Mr. Driller DrillLand is just a fresh coat of paint, but frankly, that’s all it needed.