Mr. Driller first broke onto the scene in 2000, when a little guy named Susumu and his dirt-digging puzzle game made an appearance on the Game Boy Color, PlayStation, and Dreamcast. Since then, Susumu has taken his show on the road, but none of his other exploits, which have appeared on the GameCube and Game Boy Advance, have made it outside of Japan. Now, Mr. Driller is returning to North America with the release of Mr. Driller Drill Spirits for the Nintendo DS. Fans of puzzle games will find a passable but somewhat shallow game in Drill Spirits, but fans of this specific series will find that it really hasn't changed much over the years.
The gameplay in Mr. Driller puts you at the top of a deep well filled with multicolored blocks. You then dig down into this well, and the blocks fall around you as you do so. Blocks of the same color stick together, so drilling one of them will take out an entire like-colored mass. You can drill in four directions, and move from left to right, if you've opened up a path. Most of the danger is in the possibility of being crushed by falling blocks, but you also need to collect the air capsules that show up from time to time, or you'll run out of air and lose a life. The gameplay is fun, and can be addictive, but not so addictive that you won't notice that the game doesn't really change at all as you play.
Drill Spirits' few modes are built around this basic gameplay. In the mission mode, your goal is to drill down to a specific depth, which will unlock additional characters. Pressure mode has you skittering back and forth to collect power capsules, which you can use to launch a fireball at a large drill that is coming down on you as you work. The other single-player mode is time attack, which adds in collectable items that remove seconds from the clock as you attempt to drill to a specific depth as quickly as possible. If you have multiple players, each with his or her own DS and copy of the game, you can play Drill Spirits' multiplayer mode with up to five players in all. This mode, called driller race, is a multiplayer race to the bottom. Some more variety to the game's modes would have been nice.
Control of Mr. Driller is best handled with the D pad. While you can use the stylus, this really feels like it was just tossed in for the heck of it. The game makes use of the dual-screened nature of the platform by spanning the well across the two screens. You're always on the bottom screen, so the top screen simply lets you see where you've been, which is rarely useful.
Visually, Mr. Driller Drill Spirits has a good, clean look to it. It's not a technological marvel or anything, but it's crisp and colorful, and it has plenty of character. On the audio side, the game contains a bit of speech, but it's pretty much relegated to the menus and intro screen. The sound effects do their job, and the music is upbeat and catchy.
Overall, Mr. Driller Drill Spirits is a decent game, but the lack of modes makes the fun short-lived. If you're guaranteed to be around other players who own the game, the multiplayer mode is a pretty cool diversion, but it's a shame that it requires multiple copies of the game, since it's so straightforward.