Format reviewed: Game Boy Advance
Developer: Game Freak
Get to grips with this innovative GBA game by Game Freak
Drill Dozer was such a low-key release that very little is known of its original conception. It was unveiled at a trade show in 2005 before its subsequent release in Japan in September that year and arrived in America and Europe in 2006. In a nice touch, the game also arrived with a mini-comic, further adding to its appeal.
The translation of the game to English was undertaken by Treehouse employees Thomas Connery and Erik Peterson. Connery translated the game in its entirety, while Peterson rewrote the jokes to cater for a Western audience. He was also responsible for naming many of the characters and locations. Although these alterations were made, Jill’s character was left very much intact, with Peterson quoted in an interview as saying that: “We really didn’t have to make any changes to Jill – she’s already such an interesting character. For me, the Drill Dozer is just as much of a character as Jill. In one area, Jill is separated from the Drill Dozer and you’ve got to pilot the robot through the level while you search for her.” Despite receiving accolades and glowing reviews across the board, Drill Dozer wasn’t much of a commercial success and dashed any possibility of a sequel.
Jill, complete with her robotic mech, is part of a bandit gang called the Red Dozers. Her father, Doug, leader of the gang, was ambushed by rivals the Skulkers, who in the process stole the red diamond, a gift from Jill’s dearly departed mother. It’s Jill’s aim to retrieve the stolen diamond while recovering other treasures along the way.
As a side-scrolling platformer, control of the dozer is where the bulk of the action lies, with the shoulder buttons used to operate the drilling motion forwards and backwards. Controls are simple to use, and the in-game tutorials that appear every time you need a new move mean that the learning curve is perfectly placed. Although you may have a drill, it’s not without its limitations, and this is where the game really shines. Certain barriers will require high-level gears to destroy, so exploration and a little dexterity will be needed to locate them in order to move on. Levels are tightly designed, however, so backtracking is kept to a minimum, and it’s always apparent what must happen next.
While every platformer has to include a jump button, you won’t be using this as much as you may think, as timing and strategy is the key to success. Learning to make the most of the drill, which can deflect bullets and destroy robots, as well as any objects in your way, is paramount, and it can also be used to operate machinery. Inevitably, each level has an epic boss to defeat, while some have mini-bosses to keep you on your toes. In between stages, you can visit the shopkeeper to upgrade your robot, save your progress and check out any treasures that may have been collected along the way.
As to be expected from Game Freak, the visuals have a colourful anime style that, in their simplicity, manage to exude character. Banter between the characters takes place throughout the levels, and in between stages little cut-scenes take place, which all help to shape the personality of the game. Audio plays a key part in progress, with small sounds signifying when you are coming closer to destroying walls or hitting obstacles that you just aren’t strong enough to destroy yet.
The built-in rumble feature is something that really makes the game come alive. Some games may use it as a novelty, yet with Drill Dozer it’s hard to imagine playing without it. Every rumble that vibrates through the console as you use your drill puts you firmly into the role
of Jill and makes it a tactile experience. The fact that the strength of the rumble effect alters according to the pressure of the drill is a nice touch that shows how much thought has been put into the game. It may be complete coincidence, but the cartridge itself has small holes located on the outside, almost as if someone has taken a drill to it. What are the
odds of that?
Why it’s a Future Classic
It’s certainly not an obvious choice when you think of Nintendo games, as many gamers would naturally think of Mario, Zelda, Pokémon and the Wario series as more fitting parts of a handheld collection. Yet to ignore Drill Dozer would be doing the game a disservice, as it has all the makings of a classic title. While it was criminally overlooked by most GBA owners at the time of its release, no doubt due in part to its late arrival during the handheld’s lifespan and receiving very little promotion from Nintendo, it’s an essential purchase for anyone who appreciates platformers with a touch of originality.
The well-constructed levels that encourage you to explore, along with imaginative bosses, means that Drill Dozer is constantly full of surprises. The drip feed of moves that your drill can unleash staggered throughout the game’s levels means that an otherwise repetitive gameplay mechanic manages to feel fresh at all times. With 17 levels to explore and bountiful treasures to collect, you’ll certainly be firing up your drill again for one last whirl. Drill Dozer is a gem of a game that, once unearthed, is well worth holding on to.
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