developed by Game Freak/published by Nintendo/2006.02.06
1 Player/(3 save slots)Cartridge/Gameboy Advance
Game Freak, developer of the massively popular Pokemon series, finally takes a break from that well-worn franchise to develop Drill Dozer, a refined action-platformer with a puzzle twist. Drill Dozer puts you in the cockpit of a drilling machine that can bore a hole through just about anything, including most of the GBA’s library.
Set in a vibrant cartoony world that looks a little like Pokemon and sounds like Advance Wars, players take on the role of Jill, the young daughter of the boss of the Red Dozer clan of thieves. It’s up to her to fight against the Skullker gang who’ve stolen the family’s heirloom, the Red Diamond. On top of that, the Metal City Police have a warrant out on the Dozer clan, which includes crotchety but wise Grutch and the mechanical wiz-kid Gearmo, who will help out from time to time. The story is entertaining enough to tug you along and the zany baddies are good for a laugh, which is more than I can say for the millions of licensed games on the GBA.
At its heart, Drill Dozer is all about drilling. You can drill clockwise with the R button and counter-clockwise with the L button. There’s never an instance where you don’t know which button to use because everything is color-coded when a specific button is needed (red for R, blue for L). When you start drilling, a large gear appears on the screen, and with the right timing, you can shift up into a higher gear. Higher gears need to be collected in each level, and they’ll give you the power needed to punch through powerful barriers. Just about everything can be drilled, from enemies and objects to special drill switches and platforms. The game eases you into each specific drill gimmick with simple tutorials that make for a very smooth learning curve.
In addition to drilling, the Drill Dozer can jump (A button), crouch, and slide. Jill can even pop her head out and look around or interact with the environment (eg. listen to intercoms or read post-it notes) using the B button. Besides the usual jump and drill levels there are a couple of stages where you use the drill to power a propeller (both for underwater and aerial exploration), which help to break up the gameplay. Most importantly, drilling and kicking into higher gear is simply fun to do, and the game is filled with enemies and obstacles to make the most of this. The game cartridge even comes equipped with a built-in rumble pak, which gives the player a (optional) buzz every time they power up the drill.
Length & Challenge
There’s an initial set of 12 levels, and eventually you can unlock an additional 5. Contrary to what you might expect given the game’s cute veneer, the levels are longer than usual and contain a wide variety of challenges, including some pretty tough bosses. In keeping with the rest of the game, the bosses are inventive and require you to use your drill with precision and excellent timing in order to best them. They really don’t pull any punches, so memorize their patterns of movements to grind them into submission!
Drill Dozer is a relatively short (ie. about on par with a Mega Man) game if all you want to do is play the main scenario, but you may find yourself enjoying it enough to take on the extra challenge of the unlockable levels. These levels usually have branching paths leading to hidden treasures, and are filled with some very tricky platforming puzzles that surpass anything you’ve seen in the main game. You can also revisit older levels with an upgraded drill bit to explore previously inaccessible areas, so there’s plenty of reasons to keep playing even after you’ve beaten the final boss.
There’s no denying that Drill Dozer is a must-have game for your GBA library, and now is a good time to snatch it up since you can find it fairly easily for around $10 (used) to $20 (new). The graphics, music, scenario, and game design are a refreshing change of pace for the 2D platformer genre as a whole (something of a miracle given the glut of this sort of thing on the GBA), and the game fares better than the daily grind of shovelware DS software, so be sure not to miss Drill Dozer while it’s still on store shelves.
Quick Run Down
- Drill-based game play is totally unique
- Superb variety in level design and puzzles
- Boss battles are fantastic
- Optional missions extend its life
- A little on the short side
- Optional missions can be very frustrating
One Sentence Review: Drill Dozer is a unique and very polished puzzle platformer that will have you drilling til the cows come home.
One Word Review: Addictive!
Points of Interest:
This game comes with a built-in force feedback device that causes the cartridge to vibrate at different levels when you drill in the game. Also, Game Freak’s PulseMan, which was made for the Japanese SEGA Genesis, the Mega Drive. It is now available for the Wii’s Virtual Console, so check it out.