Mr Driller is a dangerous game to get into. On the one hand, it’s quite stressful when the going gets tough and on the other, it’s difficult to put down once the game strategies have been twigged. This makes for an interesting combo and the temptation to have another go, regardless of how well/poorly previous efforts have gone, is too strong. Even at night when sleep should really be the priority, Mr Driller can still lull you into a false sense of security – “It’s not THAT late. Just one more go”. This version, Mr Driller Ace, is on the GBA, so it’s even easier to have it by the bedside. Dreams of falling blocks aren’t good.
For those who’ve already sampled Mr Driller in any of its various iterations, you should read on, because Mr Driller Ace has something shiny and new that will pique your interest. As is usual in Mr Driller, Ace involves digging downwards through a 2D block-filled shaft, with groups of colours all disappearing together, setting off potentially dangerous rock-falls and requiring on-the-fly decisions to navigate the safest path. However, whereas most Driller games focus on speed, with an air meter constantly diminishing, and indeed these are present and correct here, Ace has an additional play type as its differentiator: the “Mysterious Pacteria” mode.
This mode is a much more puzzle-orientated affair. Instead of the air disappearing at a constant rate, the act of drilling depletes the supply and thus stopping for a breather and to plan the next few moves is possible. For example, if an oxygen capsule is passed by accident, it might be advantageous to drill away a few of the blocks above and cause a chain reaction that will bring the air back within reach. To aid in the quest to drill ever further, crystals are dotted about and provide a variety of power-ups, including extra air, changing block colours, removing lines of blocks and increasing the chosen driller’s skill for a while. These are stored in an inventory to be applied from a menu at an optimum point later on. Juggling their use is imperative to continued progress down the drill shaft. Whilst this all might seem to go against the grain of the usual mad Driller dash, this slower, more thoughtful version works extremely well. Working out what these crystals do is the only real language barrier to the game, but there are some clues on the inventory menu in Roman characters, so it doesn’t take long to become accustomed to the function of each power-up choice.
As each 100m is reached in this mode, a treasure fruit appears which is used to feed a Tamagotchi-style pet rock-eater. The story is that these “Pacteria” eat the rubble created when our intrepid driller drills rocks to bits, thus explaining where all the blocks disappear to. Adding this fruit to their diet causes the pet to transform into a new species and it can go through many evolutions. Bizarrely these pets can be uploaded to the GameCube’s Mr Driller: Drill Land, for the “Parade” option. Crazy and pointless, but virtual pets normally are.
However, the Mysterious Pacteria mode is only a small part of what’s on offer. Also vying for your attention are the Drilling Mission mode and the Driller Grand Prix. The mission mode is the traditional manic dash to the next air capsule (because oxygen depletion is constant) and the GP mode is a fierce race against either AI characters or against up to three other friends using a link-cable (only one cartridge is required). Unfortunately, unless opponents have their own practice with Mr Driller games, the cartridge owner is likely to win every time, since successful tactics take a while to learn. Although these modes will be more familiar to Driller fans, they work especially well on the GBA, with some finely tuned block placements and great music.
There are six characters to choose from and they all have noticeably different attributes. For example the dog, Puchi, has the ability to jump up two blocks, Anna drills quickly but uses air more rapidly too and the robot, Horinga-Z, can withstand a falling block once before losing a life. Their varied talents make for a slightly different game experience and experimenting with all of them to find one suitable for your play style and current game mode is definitely worthwhile. Extended play also helps out in the Mysterious Pacteria mode shops, where play time, in the form of “miles” dug, can be used to buy extra power-ups. More usefully than the Pacteria transfer, these miles can also be sent across to Drill Land if desired.
Presentation is impeccable, with easily navigated menus and icons complimenting the Japanese text. There’s even a lengthy song and a story video introducing the various characters. A great feature available in the quest mode is the ability to save the game state, so when next turned on, the player is offered the choice of continuing from that point or starting afresh. If only this were available in all GBA games.
For those wanting to sample some Driller action, Mr Driller Ace is the one to go for. It’s perfect for handhelds, fitting in a quick go whenever time allows, and yet works just as well at home when more time is available. It has a great mixture of distinctly different modes and even veterans of the Dreamcast, GameCube, PlayStation, Arcade and DS editions will find the quest mode significantly new to warrant a purchase. It has also been released on budget label in Japan, making it even better value. The overall distance drilled since purchase is constantly stored and updated in the scores menu. The numbers are worryingly high on our copy. Don’t let it take over your life.
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