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[DHGF[Givin' A Little DLC: April 4, 2008

Welcome to what I hope will be a weekly column on the releases that come weekly for the XBox Live Arcade service, and whatever I can play on the PSP from the PS Store. To summarize the point of this column, I take the games released (actual games; no demos), play them, and let you know if it's worth your money or not, and for that, I'll be "borrowing" Scott Keith's thumbs up/down/middle standard, because clinical tests show that name-dropping other, more widely published writers makes my balls bigger. These aren't full reviews - after all, games like Pac Man and Chessmaster don't need full write-ups - but are intended more or less to be quick and dirty, like the majority of the games themselves. Also, note that we don't handle Virtual Console games here; someone else takes care of that better than I could.

Of course, Sony and Microsoft combined to give me the perfect warm-up week, as the two services combined conspired to give us a grand total of one game, mainly thanks to the PS Store renovating their entire service. Makes for a slow week, but if it means region-free games, then they can take as long as they want.

GAME: Mr. Driller Online
SERVICE: XBLA
PUBLISHER: Namco Bandai
COST: 800 MS Points ($10)

Mr. Driller was a quirky Dreamcast and Playstation title with a very loose connection to 80s smash hit Dig Dug that developed a bit of a cult following, along with titles like Chu Chu Rocket and Space Channel 5, and like other obscure titles with a niche following, it's found it's way onto the XBox Live Arcade service for the highly manageable price of $10 in real world money. Considering I spent $30 on the DS game, $10 for one I can play against people online sounded like a bargain. Would I be let down? Let's find out.

For anyone not familiar with Mr. Driller, you take the place of one of a few characters as you drill variously coloured blocks with the goal of hitting a specified distance; one block represents one meter, and you have goals ranging from 100m to 5,000m, with an infinite mode for experts. Blocks of the same colour link together into groups, much like Puyo Puyo. As you drill, any block that was under the now-removed blocks free-falls, and if it links together with other same-coloured blocks, it causes a chain, which is where the majority of your score comes in. However, this also presents the potential that you're going to have a block fall on your head if you get stuck under it, and if that happens, you lose a life unless you're using a specific character that gets two hits. For a shorter summary of the gameplay, take Puyo Puyo, Tetris, and an Astro Boy cartoon, put them in a blender, hit puree and serve cold.

The single player mode is nothing we haven't seen before in a Mr. Driller game; you have standard and quest modes of varying lengths, and the only difference between the two is that Quest Mode makes you do other shit as well as dig to a specified distance, with examples including completing 100m within a specified time, destroying a set number of blocks, or using a minimum of air capsules. Scores from both modes are saved and posted to online leaderboards, but this is standard for Namco games. As a single player experience, Mr. Driller is a fun game, but this version is selling itself on it's online mode.

Online mode in Mr. Driller, so far, is admirable. It's not admirable in a "this is good" sense, but rather, it gives me hope for our society as a whole, as it shows that we have finally found good jobs for those with learning deficits and other mental abnormalities within Namco Bandai's QA department. In less literary terms, online play in Mr. Driller is fucking broken. I haven't had one match - ranked or not - that hasn't had severe problems, not just with lag, but also with glitches. In one ranked match, I couldn't drill the blocks I was supposed to drill; I tried and tried, but my boy's drill bounced right off it, while my opponent merrily dug her way to a virtual default victory. Combine painful lag with glitches that make the game nearly unplayable with the fact that there's no patch planned for the game, and you have a game that should never have been put online, or at best, should have been pulled, the way Sensible World of Soccer was.

Furthermore, as is the case with every Namco Bandai game I've seen on XBLA, if you want to play a local game with more than one player, you're ostensibly fucked; the option simply isn't there. Let me repeat this: you cannot play against a person right next to you. However, you CAN play against someone online... provided you're an XBox Gold member. It's inexcusable, and I've yet to see one reason why they cannot provide local multiplayer. What hurts things even more is that I had problems - even a day after release - finding matches online, much like a lot of XBLA's games.

In short, Mr. Driller is a very fun game on it's own merits, and this version is fine if you like the single player mode and want to put your scores up against players around the world. Furthermore, this game could very well be fixed later with a patch to make online mode playable. But as it stands, I find it hard to recommend a game this badly broken purely on principle, especially when the Driller Spirits (for the Nintendo DS) is around $10 nowadays itself. Thumbs in the middle, leaning down for Mr. Driller Online.

Images courtesy of Kotaku Australia