Back in the ’80s, otherwise known as the golden age of arcade games, there was a little game called Dig Dug that I used to pop a quarter into in between my bouts of Galaga or Pac-Man. It was sort of a maze game that focused on a little guy who eliminated enemies while shoveling his way down deep into the dirt.
Turns out that game was pretty popular in Japan, too. So much so, that years later the son of the Dig Dug protagonist burrowed right into a series of fun games of his own that appeared in both arcade and console versions with the moniker of Mr. Driller. This new game was now more of a puzzle game and considered by many to be one of the best puzzlers around until it kinda disappeared into the deep in the early aughts.
OK, history lesson is over. I bring it all up because Mr. Driller DrillLand has now resurfaced on the Nintendo Switch. To be entirely accurate this new game is really an updated version of an old Nintendo GameCube title that never released here in the States. But the graphics have been updated, and there are a number of new HD cutscenes, too.
So for us, hey, we’ve got a new Mr. Driller. And it’s one of the best in the whole series.
The game itself feels very much like a Japanese anime or Power Puff Girls-like cartoon—with the characters speaking in Japanese with English captions. It focuses on young Susumu Hori and his dig-happy pals (and yep, that includes his pop, Taizo, the original Dig Dug). They’re all enjoying an excursion to a new underground amusement park called Drill Land. Yeah, it’s one of those parks where the rides only appeal to people who are really into swinging a shovel or manhandling a drill.
The group goal is to see who can best find their way through the obstacle and pitfall-strewn dig sites that make up the park’s attractions. But watch out! It’s possible that the park owner, Mr. Fluid, may not be as innocent as he seems. What’s worse, the whole park could very well be part of a dastardly plot!
So, what do gamers have to do here? Well, the objective is to continually drill down into a given substrata by removing groups of colored blocks. Eliminate one red block, for instance, and any other connected red blocks disappear, too. Which then will drop you to another section of different colored blocks. Of course, the puzzle side of things is that as you remove a chunk of blocks, that could well cause a bunch of others or a loose boulder above you to come tumbling down on your defenseless noggin. So you must be careful with that pickaxe and the path you choose.
There are also dastardly dangers down there in the deep. Depending on the site where you’re digging—sometimes creepy ancient ruins, sometimes a haunted house, or an evil labyrinth or outer space replica—there are specific hazards or creatures to avoid and specific bonus-boosting treasures to pick up. You might run out of oxygen or be overrun by ghostly figures depending on the path you choose.
This is an E-rated game, but since I mentioned “ghostly figures,” let me be more specific. The game as a whole is very cheery and funny with those broad, anime-like characters leading the unearthing charge. But there are some ghosts, bats and even a demon in the mix of foes. Since it’s a theme park we find out that those creepy crawlies are actually park employees dressed up, but it’s still part of the Haunted House and Demon Hole attractions.
There’s no foul language here. (Especially in light of the cute Japanese dialogue.) But as the various characters interact, they might voice a frustrated exclamation like “No freaking way!” or “Darn it!” that’s printed out in the English captions. Somebody spits out “Let go, jerk,” and another wonders aloud “What the heck?”
Those aren’t necessarily deal killers, but they might be things Mom doesn’t want yelled out in a crowd either. The only other potential issue for young ’uns is a tiny dancing character from Germany, who, in one ride, taps about with a glass of foamy beer in his grip.
Now, I might be a bit biased since I still have some Dig Dug in my DNA. But other than those admittedly tiny drawbacks, I’d have to say the rest is far from, uh … boring.
DrillLand isn’t too hard for kids to use while still being a fun but tough puzzle path challenge for young and old alike. Even if you keep hitting the same avalanche spot several times in a row, the game offers options and another go at the collapsing conundrum right away. It’s the kind of game you can pick up for a short 10-minute break. Or, you can really, ahem, dig into it for an hour or so. The best part? There’s no dirt under your fingernails when you’re done.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.