The last time we got to put our hands on Mr. Driller Drill Spirits, we found it to be a pretty run-of-the-mill port of the classic puzzle game to Nintendo's new dual-screen portable. But actually, it's a lot more than that; we just had a hard time finding that out with only one playable copy of the game lying around. We tried the game again at a recent Namco press event, with a little assistance and with two DS systems running the game (for multiplayer, of course), and we found Drill Spirits to be a whole lot more interesting and fun than we'd thought previously.
For the two or three of you who haven't played Mr. Driller before, it's an extremely simple puzzle game in which you drill downward through a Tetris-like stack of colored blocks, attempting to avoid getting crushed by falling rocks, occasionally trying to pick up air capsules to further your drilling, and usually racing against some sort of time limit. And to get it out of the way, the new Drill Spirits contains all of the stuff you'd expect from a Mr. Driller game, such as a mission mode with levels set in various locales, multiple unlockable characters that have different abilities (such as the ability to drill faster than normal or to drill two blocks at a time, for instance), and so on.
The new mode in the game that we tried out last time was the pressure mode; this time around, we got a much better feel for this new game type. Essentially, pressure mode has your character being chased downward by a giant, anthropomorphized drill that really has it in for you. You'll control your character on the lower screen while the menacing machine fills much of the upper screen, and if you start to lag behind, it will soon catch up and ruin your day. Thankfully, though, you've got a secret weapon against this dastardly hardware. As it's chasing you, the drill will periodically extend a flower (don't ask us) from its bottom, left, or right sides, and as you're fleeing you'll be able to pick up projectile items that you can fire back at this flower to damage the drill. Score enough hits on the flower, and you've defeated the drill. You can hold several projectiles at one time, but the catch is, whenever you score a hit you'll lose them all, forcing you to pick up more items frequently.
As much fun as the pressure mode was, the real star of Mr. Driller Drill Spirits was the wireless multiplayer mode, which we got to try out for the first time. The multiplayer will accommodate up to five players at once, and as has been our experience with other multiplayer DS games, setting up and getting into a game with other players was about as simple as could be. Once you've got your players in a game, you'll pick the depth of the board you'll play on and head into the action. Drill Spirits' multiplayer is basically a race, with each player attempting to reach the end of the board first. Everyone plays on the same board, but they will have to drill all their blocks separately. You'll see ghostly versions of your opponents when they're onscreen with you.
What really makes the game's multiplayer action so madcap is the distribution of power-up items scattered around the board. These items are all represented by question marks, so you never know what they'll do when you pick them up, but they always have some effect that's advantageous for you or deleterious for your opponents. One power-up makes you drill super fast, for instance, while another one clears a big line of blocks below you, allowing you to fall straight down and get a big head start. Another malicious power-up we saw erected a bunch of unbreakable blocks around our opponent, which slowed down his progress substantially. This multiplayer mode lent itself to a lot of trash talking and frantic action, which is exactly what you'd look for in a multiplayer puzzle game, and with five-player wireless support, it ought to prove the most valuable and replayable addition to the new game.
Graphically, Drill Spirits really isn't pushing the DS particularly hard. The game is still entirely in 2D, though the visuals are extremely colorful, and some of the sprites, such as the giant drill that's chasing voraciously after you in pressure mode, are quite large and amusingly animated. In terms of presentation, the game is about what you'd expect from the Mr. Driller series, but that's OK, since the game is taking good advantage of the DS' more-unique technical elements, such as the two screens and the wireless multiplayer features. We were certainly more impressed with Drill Spirits the second time around once we were able to delve further into its new additions. It ought to be a no-brainer for anyone who's a fan of the series and for anyone who becomes an early adopter of the Nintendo DS. Look for more on the game soon.