Jay Button: A Drill Dozer to pierce the heavens

July 28, 2011

I’m gonna tell you about a mental illness I have. It’s called Nintendamnesia. This particular illness tends to flair up every single time Nintendo releases a new console. No matter how bad the lineup looks, what people tell me or how much it costs, I can’t wait for the thing to come out. I’ll preorder it at GameStop, wait in line and walk home with it happily. If I’m lucky I’ll have one or two launch games, but more realistically my bag will only contain the system itself. Once I get home, I’ll be fascinated by the console’s built-in features and mess around with the menus. Then it will sit on a shelf for months without being touched. This happens every damn time Nintendo releases a console. What does Nintendamnesia have to do with Drill Dozer on the GBA? Hit the jump to find out.

It finally happened. After two months of denial, I sold my 3DS. Not for good, of course. Like with all Nintendo consoles I buy at launch, I’ll be rebuying it in a year to find a great backlog of titles. But for now, I have no real reason to own one. Usually I’ll have at least one or two launch games that interest me, but there’s really not much to choose from on the 3DS. The launch lineup is even smaller than most console releases. This is partly because the 3DS’s 3D function and upgraded graphics require games be built from the ground up for the console. With the transition from the GameCube to Wii or GBA to DS, developers could grab a title they’d been working on for the older console, slap on a few touch-screen or waggle features and market it as a next generation game.

Plenty of early DS games could have come out on the GBA (like The Urbz: Sims in the City), and some actually did (like Scurge and Phoenix Wright). But some great games have been left behind when the world is moving on to a new console. Mega Man Legends 2 was met with poor sales for being released just after the PS2. (Hey, that reminds me of the OTHER reason I sold my 3DS, but let’s not get into that.) Even the GBA had some casualties. Nintendo has a habit of completely abandoning their last console when a new one’s announced. (Just look at all the great Wii games coming out this year.) One in particular deserved way more credit than it received. That game is Game Freak’s Drill Dozer.

Yeah, Game Freak, the guys who made Pokemon. Even the guys who make Nintendo a huge chunk of change every year for a decade get left in the dust. In Drill Dozer, you play as a little girl named Jill who rides around in a mechanized suit with a giant, suggestively-placed drill. She uses the drill as a weapon and means of conveyance on her journey to save her father, who is also the leader of their gang of bandits. With the drill you can turn mechanisms, attack enemies and plow through brick walls. Throughout each of the seventeen massive stages, you’ll find two upgrades for your drill eventually making it three times stronger than when you started. The R button spins it clockwise and the L counter-clockwise. This adds a whole new layer onto the game’s platforming, which is what makes it so memorable. Rather than just put through the stage, Drill Dozer requires a play style unlike any other game.  Many puzzles require specific timing and finesse when using the drill. Even each boss has a unique drill style to it.

The fresh take on platforming is only hampered by how long some levels can be. Since this is a later GBA title, a merciful sleep mode is included. But I rarely find myself finishing more than one level in a sitting. Mostly I’m driven to keep going because of the game’s goofy narrative and cartoony aesthetic. Drill Dozer’s script was localized in-house by Nintendo’s Treehouse team and they really gave it a fun and fanciful flavor. The dialogue is funny and snappy, and reflects the colorful visuals. What really made this game stand out was its peculiar cartridge design. Like Boktai, the cart sticks out from the GBA. Rather than a solar sensor, it stores a rumble pak. When Jill spins her drill through an enemy or block, the cart will vibrate and shake the whole GBA. This is about as immersive as a GBA game has gotten for me. Sometimes I found myself forgetting all about the rumble feature and being freaked out when it kicked in.

Even if it had come out at the peak of the GBA’s lifespan, I doubt Drill Dozer would have done much better than it did. It’s fairly difficult, yet it looks like a kids’ game. I’m sure its unfortunate release time isn’t the only thing to blame for the games failure to drive sales, but it’s still definitely worth a look. You can find it at GameStop for fivebucks, and even cheaper on Amazon. If you’re a fan of SNES/GBA era platformers and want one that puts a spin [hey-oooooo] on the genre, pick up Drill Dozer.