|By Zach Patterson||Thursday, 5 Apr 2007|
Game Freak, perhaps best known for developing most of the important Pokemon games, released this underrated gem for the Game Boy Advance in 2006. At its heart, Drill Dozer is a classic platformer, mixing elements of Mega Man, Kirby, and countless other platformers. The big gimmick in this game to set it apart from other platformers is the drill mechanic. This is something you have from the beginning of the game and progressively gets upgraded as you move along. You use the L and R buttons to trigger the drill (either to drill or reverse it, depending on the situation) and this ends up being your only weapon throughout the game. You can drill in any direction, and you can also use it to fly through some levels, swim through the water, solve simple puzzles, and scale sides of tall corridors.
An additional gimmick is that the cartridge itself doubles as a rumble pack, which adds a remarkable amount to the game. Every time you drill, the little cartridge gives you a nice little rumble. This seems pretty minor, but its very noticeable after you have played with it and then go to turn if off. The rumble increases as you gain drill gears, and it’s often crucial for timing in later and bonus levels where you pretty much need to be perfect with your drill skills to get across tricky areas. It’s definitely a nice addition, and shows that DS developers would do well to integrate the rumble pack into more of their games.
The game play itself isn’t terribly complicated, and the amount of moves you can do is fairly limited. The game really makes itself around the drill concept, however, and what you can do with it. Most bosses have a certain weakness you need to exploit and drill, and sometimes you need to use your drilling skills to quickly hop up a shaft. Additionally, the game also throws a decent amount of puzzles at you, such as blocks that can only be drilled for a split second before disappearing (thus you have to tap your drill button and then hop off of it to the next block) or finding how to open up areas to hidden treasures you will see over the course of exploring a level. Most every level is a chance to find new parts for your dozer, and then upgrade it in between levels, kind of like a basic Mega Man template.
The game itself isn’t terribly hard either, as most people will breeze through the game with relative ease, hence the comparison to Kirby. It’s the fun kind of easy, where it’s just a real joy to play and if it got really hard, the game’s simplicity would lose some of its appeal. The secret levels add a degree of skill and challenge, and the last level or two have some hard points, but it’s really not too bad. The levels actually end up being fairly lengthy, and while there are only 17 or so levels, they are very large and some require some backtracking to open locked areas. Additionally, most every level will be played multiple times to uncover hidden areas and treasures when you receive drill upgrades.
In between levels, you will see some story as you and your crew hunt for lost diamonds to keep them out of evil hands, and you will have a nice little menu where you can buy upgrades like more health, check the status of your dozer, or save the game. The upgrades give the game a bit more depth, which is welcome in most any platformer to keep things fresh. The game breaks up the platforming action by throwing in flying, swimming, and mech-only levels, which all have different mechanics, and each level has a giant boss to defeat.
The visual style of the game is pretty striking, with a mixing of anime and comic punk stylings. The main character is a girl with bright pink hair piloting a mech, so you can already see influence there. The art is actually really well done and feels reminiscent of Alien Hominid in some places. The characters are all pretty expressive too, and even the basic enemies seem to be full of personality. The levels are varied as well, with museums, ruins, cities, and sky areas, to name a few.
The music is a mixed bag. While there are some decent songs, it seems like the same few songs play over and over and quickly get on your nerves. It’s not that they are bad songs, mind you, they are just played way too much. Most of the songs are very upbeat, poppy tunes. I particularly liked the music in between levels. The sound is pretty good, mixing a nice drilling sound and mechanical footsteps with some slapstick and goofy sound effects like a “boing” noise when you hit some baddies with the drill.
The control for the most part is very spot on, especially when agile moves with the drill are needed. The dozer feels like it has some weight to it, as it definitely cannot jump far or be super acrobatic without some help from the drill. The flying and swimming levels occasionally test your patience with the awkward controls, but it never gets to a point where you think “man, this sucks.”
This game is really worth seeking out, and I had a lot more fun than I thought I would with it. Uncovering secret levels and hidden items was actually fun and it never felt like a chore to collect them all like some games. The levels were fun, long, varied, and interesting. The characters had personality and were all likable, even the enemies. It’s a shame the game sold very poorly, as it was set up perfectly for a sequel, and we may never see one. It’s still relatively common (and cheap!), so look for a copy if you are in the mood for some great platforming action.