Mr. Driller 2

Mr. Driller 2

Release date:
Japan: 2001.03.21
USA: 2005.04.10
Europe: 2004.01.30

Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco (all regions)
Size: 32 Mbit

Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you – this is the first third-party game, done by industry veterans, Namco. Looking a bit closer, don’t you find the release schedule a bit weird? Launch title in Japan and released after 4 years in USA – well after the Nintendo DS sequel came out.

It’s almost like Namco didn’t care much for the game. Which is weird since it’s a very competent arcade puzzle game. This is everything Kuru Kuru Kururin was not.

Sure, the game can be very infuriating. But that’s mostly caused by how incompetent the player is at it, not by how bad the controls are. Only major gripe is the limited vertical viewpoint, which can be the cause of your death from time to time. The music is pretty atrocious. I guess they just reused most of it from the Game Boy Color port of Mr. Driller – other than the speech samples in the intro, the GBA’s sample playing capability doesn’t seem to be used. And yes, there’s not really much to do here, all things considering – just four difficulty modes (one of them unlockable) plus an additional Time Attack mode which has some very absurd time limits – I wasn’t able to clear even the first stage.

The game’s a coin muncher at heart and it clearly shows. You’re always one step from dying, each false move can send an avalanche of rocks hurling in your direction, your air supply is constantly running away and the 1-ups are very rare.

Still, I found myself running the game from time to time for the whole week, trying a few runs and then going back to other things. Slowly getting better at it, developing new techniques.

And it still wasn’t enough to finish the main game mode on the standard difficulty level. Go figure. I guess that with some practice I’d be able to, sooner or later, that’s how arcade games work. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun while playing – some games are rewarding even without a specific goal – like Tetris for instance.

Anyway, if you’re in the mood for a good time waster, something you’ll be coming back to for a long while, look no further than Mr. Driller 2. This is not a game you’ll be able to play for hours on an end, but those fifteen minutes of your life spent won’t feel like a lost time.

This time, once again, we have a perfect portable game.

Scratch that. It’s something much, much worse. A perfect arcade game. Only, somehow, it fits portable gaming perfectly. Here’s hoping the past and future of electronic entertainment are one and the same. And let’s forget about the present, please. As fast as possible.

There’s one defining feature of arcade games. You’re not supposed to beat them. Ever. Instead, they’re supposed to beat you. Into the ground. Preferably as fast as possible. And then you’re supposed to come back crawling on your knees with yet another coin in your palm, asking to be raped some more like the little bitch you are. It’s the entire culture that used to specifically target and thrive on the most dedicated among the most dedicated, willing to pay for each and every play separately. And it was demanding for the games, too; they not only had to get hard enough fast enough for the players to not be able to occupy the machine for too long, they also had to prove their value in the short time before the inevitable game over so that people go back to them (again and again).

This is the environment Mr. Driller was born in. And it shows.

It’s a really simple game with simple controls and mechanics immediately, intuitively understandable to anyone who has ever played Dig Dug, Boulder Dash or even Tetris. You move through a well filled with randomly generated melds of square blocks of various colours with your one-square-sized character, trying to lead him all the way to the bottom by destroying blocks adjacent to him. You have to collect air in order to not suffocate, and avoid being squashed by blocks falling from above while you do.

Sounds simple, or even easy? Be aware that simple rules paired with randomness invariably lead to near-infinite complexity, and this game makes use of it to the fullest, often taking special care to make things more unpredictable. You can learn patterns that make your movement safer, but with the complex structures the blocks can form, coupled with limited viewport and time constraints caused by your depleting air supply, you’ll never be able to fully control the situation. And you can’t even complain, because it’s all fair – the unpredictable movements of blocks will more often than not be in your favour. But when they’re not, you can only rely on your quick reflexes and observation skills, and even then you have no guarantee that you’ll survive. Sometimes, you’re just screwed. And by simple laws of probability, this means that no matter how good you are, sooner or later something will happen that prevents you from playing forever.

In addition, the game itself gets progressively harder the further you go. Air becomes more scarce and access to it more difficult, leaving less and less room for error and hesitation. This results in something scary – a progressively steeper and steeper learning curve. Yes, you can and will get better, but gains will be smaller and smaller with each subsequent try. I don’t even want to think of the kind of dedication a true mastery of this game would need. I sure as hell don’t have it.

Numerous problems can befall arcade games when they’re transplanted to a coin-less environment. Some turn out to be too short once you can play them repeatedly without additional costs. Some turn out to be too difficult, never gathering wider audience. Some simply don’t work outside of a cabinet. Mr. Driller, on the other hand, made the switch painlessly and suffers from neither of those predicaments. Instead, it has a much more peculiar one. It’s too addictive.

In the arcade, when your eyes get tired, your reaction time gets longer and you feel like you’re hitting a wall – you just instinctively quit and go home in order to not waste any more money. No safeguard of this kind exists on consoles, especially portable ones. You can literally use them on any free moment you have. And with games like this one, you really shouldn’t. The results aren’t pretty. Trust me, I speak from experience. Tempted by the goal of completing the game on normal difficulty, I spent a total of several hours exhausting and frustrating myself in front of it, unable to get better due to increasing difficulty and decreasing concentration, but at the same time unable to stop. I succeeded after a (long) while, but I can’t even look at the game anymore afterwards.

Now, I really believe that, during the last few days, I have witnessed a masterpiece, a work of pure unbridled genius. But now, please, take this game as far away from me as possible, it’s too trauma-inducing. I’m drained of all energy, and will probably see nothing but falling blocks in my sleep for weeks.

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