Drilling isn't exactly something that sounds like perfect videogame material. I personally associate it with DIY: Putting up shelves, hanging doors and hoping you aren't about to drill through an electricity cable. Surprisingly, Mr. DRILLER: Drill Spirits has nothing to do with DIY, which is obviously a good thing.
Drill Spirits continues the series that has already found its way onto a number of systems, offering more of the gameplay that fans will have become accustomed to. For those not in the know, Mr.DRILLER puts you in control of a driller who must drill down through varying depths of multicoloured blocks. When overhead blocks become unstable, they fall, either on your head, killing you, or on top of other blocks, which, if forming a group of four or more same coloured blocks, will make them disappear. To make this trickier you have to be aware of your air level. As time passes your air supply will go down, requiring you to pick up air capsules that are spread out in-between blocks Failure to keep your air supply above zero will result in your driller's death. It's a very simple game mechanic, but it works well.
'this would have worked almost as well on the GBA'
Being a Nintendo DS game, you'd expect some use of the console's Touch Screen, and the Namco have obliged. However, Mr. DRILLER's gameplay doesn't combine well with the stylus. Using the stylus, you move your character around and select the blocks to drill, which is actually easier and more natural to do using the D-Pad and A-Button. The machine's dual screens are both used to display the drilling area, with the upper screen usually full of blocks about to collapse. Even with this dual-screen display it's obvious that this would have worked almost as well on the GBA.
Numerous game modes are available. In single player you have Mission Driller, Pressure Driller, Time Attack Driller and Dristone. Mission Driller is your standard game mode, requiring you to drill to the bottom of stages of varying difficulty. The early stages are pretty simple, but later levels have much deeper drill depths and ramp up the difficulty an awful lot. As well as standard coloured blocks, a number of different blocks are thrown into the mix: X-Blocks require five drills in order to be destroyed and doing so will drain 20% of your air supply; Crystal Blocks will disappear over time, potentially causing blocks to fall from above or below you; and White blocks act like normal blocks, but do not join up to similar coloured blocks. Mission Driller starts off simple, but is really addictive, and the later stages are really challenging. As you progress you unlock more characters (each with varying abilities) and mileage drilled is used an in-game currency, used to purchase power-ups.
Pressure Driller gives your driller the power to fire fireballs. This is handy as you have a Destroyer Drill coming after you. If it catches up with you, you'll die, so you need to destroy it before it does. Power capsules charge your power meter, with 3 power capsules required to max the charge at three. The Destroyer Drill will release a number of destroyer blocks (which have the same attributes as the blocks found in Mission Driller) as it drills. These come from three chutes which can be disabled with fireball attacks. Firing at the Destroyer Drill's chutes will completely drain your power meter, but a fireball will inflict more damage if it has a higher charge, making it worth while to wait until your power meter is full. Just as in Mission Driller, more characters become available as stages are completed and power-ups bought in the shop can be used.
Time Trial Driller requires you to make it to a goal within a set time, and Dristone is a quest mode, where you collect power-ups to use as you drill. These are nice bonuses, but you'll spend most of your time with Mission Driller and Pressure Driller. For anyone with friends, you can play in the Driller Race mode with up to four other players. Here you race each other to the goal, collecting and using various power-ups as you go. The good news is that this European version of the game features the single-cart multi-play that was missing from the North American release, meaning that you can race against friends even if they haven't bought the game.
The DS has a number of puzzle games available at launch, with Polarium probably being the pick of the bunch. Mr. DRILLER comes off as a game that doesn't really utilize the console's potential, but the core gameplay is good enough for that not to matter. If you are solely looking for a puzzle title makes good use of the DS's Touch Screen, then this might not be for you, but the lack of original Touch Screen ideas aside, this is a top notch puzzler.