Namco Bandai's Xbox Live Arcade games are lauded for two things: classic arcade gameplay and easy achievements. Mr. Driller Online departs from both of these traditions by breaking the storied gameplay and making the achievements more difficult to unlock. The single-player experience is shallow and the online is unplayable. It all begs the question: "How can you call it Mr. Driller Online without the online?"
Mr. Driller originated as an arcade game in 1999 and arrived on the Game Boy Color, PlayStation, and Dreamcast in 2000. In every instance, the gameplay has been the same. You control Susumu, or one of a handful of other characters, and dive into the multicolored layers of the Earth's crust. As you dig down, the blocks fall around you. 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 lies 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 single-player experience is very shallow with only two modes of play: Standard Driller and Quest Driller. Each mode has five maps, with the only variation to the gameplay coming in the depths to which you are tasked with diving. While the starting locations are supposed to represent different and exotic locations around the world, the levels all look the same. Sure, the strata of earth change from tier to tier as you dive, but the appearance is identical to previous installments' level designs. Quest mode is only differentiated from Standard mode because each tier of earth you dig through has a condition for completion. You may be limited to only picking up a certain number of air canisters or you are tasked with finishing in a certain time limit. The conditions for each tier are easy, but the Standard mode, by comparison, is made all the more mundane in comparison to the Quest mode. Though the gameplay is simple, a limited number of lives ensures that only the most excellent of excavators will survive the repetition and complete the deeper levels to unlock all of the achievements. After you've explored the depths of the single-player experience, the gameplay only has one direction to go: down.
Online play is broken. Match hosts can play against up to three opponents in Solo Battle mode. Hosts can dig without many problems, but any challengers would be very fortunate to make it past the first four levels of soil due to the glitch-filled, lag-filled mess. Sometimes, players will die for no reason. Challengers can mash on that drill button until their fingers develop blisters, but the same animation and the same grating sound effect will play dozens of times before an obstruction will clear. If you want to win, your only choice is to host. Throughout scores of matches--between opponents of all types, connections, locations, and vocabularies--the outcome was the same. Unfortunately, the game's other multiplayer mode, Tag Battle, is even worse. In the event that four players are able to move, the two-person teams can do little to help one another or make any noticeable progress. Theoretically, teammates should be able to rescue one another from peril or unleash special moves, but death and drilling on the same blocks seem to be inescapable. Given the general lack of playability, few challenges lasted the full three minutes before one or all of the would-be players quit the match.
There are better (and cheaper) puzzle games on the Xbox 360, and the 2004 release of Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits on the DS offers pretty much the same gameplay in a better package. In its current broken state, Mr. Driller is one franchise that Namco Bandai should have waited to exhume.