It took a few months, but Mr. Driller, Namco's latest foray into puzzle games, has finally arrived on the Game Boy Color. In it, you play the role of Susumu, a happy-go-lucky drill fanatic who tries to rescue his city from a subterranean menace. This menace, being the mean guy that he is, intends to bury the city under a million tons of rock. Your job is to guide Susumu down into the heart of madness to defeat his nemesis.
As Mr. Driller's story differs from the norm, so too does its gameplay. Unlike in most puzzle titles, where you directly align falling objects or have to throw pieces up to the top of the screen, the goal in Mr. Driller is to help the protagonist dig his way through a crystal-laden mine shaft. Thankfully, the game gives you the best tool for the job: a drill. By drilling away various colors of crystals and rocks, you can make the others fall lower, hopefully matching four or more of the same color either horizontally, vertically, or in a number of four-sided shapes. There's also an air limit to contend with. If the air counter reaches zero, you'll expire. Since the game gives you only three lives, it's best to snag a few air capsules during the plummet to the bottom of the shaft. Air isn't your only enemy, either. If a block happens to fall on you, you can die from that as well. Then, there are the X blocks, which are brown and have an X printed on each of them. While drilling most blocks takes 1 or 2 percent of your air per step, Mr. Driller's X blocks can deduct a whopping 30 to 40 percent from your air gauge each time.
It's difficult to totally explain Mr. Driller, but if you imagine a cross between Dig Dug, Columns, and Puyo Puyo, you're on the right track. You can move in four prime directions on the game's 2D levels and use your drill in these same four directions as well. Once in a while, you may even uncover an unhappy alien and watch your score skyrocket as he flees the scene. Keep in mind, though, that the length of the cavern and speed at which your air dissipates depends on the level you choose. The 500-meter challenge doesn't really become difficult until you are three-fifths of the way into it, but the 1000-meter challenge hits hard right off the bat. If you're a masochist, there's also the 3000-meter expert challenge.
Other than great gameplay and a few challenges, Mr. Driller has nothing more to offer. Because of this, the game's PS and DC releases got a lot of criticism, mainly due to their lack of multiplayer modes and slipshod presentation. However, these same flaws actually make the GBC port enjoyable. Mr. Driller offers the same exact gameplay and features as the PlayStation and Dreamcast releases, with barely a loss in visual or audio quality. Despite a lack of high-color background graphics, the foreground structures and character sprites look just as they do on the Dreamcast. The facial shock, surprise, and relief animations even made it into the game. Amazingly, the music and sound effects are also dead on, doing ample justice to the catchy, insidiously happy Dreamcast tunes while sounding only a touch less refined. Also, since the Game Boy Color's main demographic revolves around solitary consumers with modest amounts time on their hands, the lack of multiplayer support or extra gameplay modes doesn't hurt the game's GBC release as much as those of its console cousins. Sure, Tetris DX is still the most well-rounded GBC puzzle game, but Mr. Driller puts up a good fight, with three distinct modes, excellent visuals, an original premise, highly addictive gameplay, and a sickeningly charming lead character. If you're the type of person who can forgive a lack of features for an otherwise impeccable game, Mr. Driller might be a decent addition to your puzzle game library.