15 years of Game Freak's boring Drill Dozer

Try not to Doze off

I have a complicated relationship with Drill Dozer. Well, actually, it's not that complicated at all. I just don't think much to it.

That's not to say it's bad, just not for me. I find its gameplay plodding almost from start to finish, with the regimented, repetitive structure of it all wearing thin after just two or three levels. It's all just... so... slow... and you do the same things in (almost) every level. Collect the gears, improve your drill, get constantly interrupted for banal dialogue.

Is it a bad game? No, not at all, really. It's simply a remarkably staid affair given the acclaim it receives. It's all very simplistic and the set pieces, such as they are, failed to ignite my imagination. The levels are all ruddy bloody long, too, far longer than they are rich in ideas. I can usually reach the pyramid/temple stage before losing interest - the water-based level is just an all-time gaming bummer.

There's stuff to enjoy here - the vibration effect on the original, oversized GBA cart is fun and makes the game stand out. The physical game, I mean. There's also a lovely, bouncy aesthetic to the whole thing, as well as some great music. The visuals are good and memorable, the character designs are cool. It should be a lot more fun to play than it is, but that initial run-through is just too laborious for me.

Thankfully the post-game sends you off to find hidden treasures in each stage using upgrades you've obtained later in the game, and it's a much more fun and interesting challenge than the baseline effort. The game's genuinely fun mechanics - reversing your drill direction to launch yourself away is cool and feels crunchy - are only here put to any kind of test, plus the nature of revisiting old levels means that you're not being constantly interrupted for a bunch of boring waffle like you are in the game proper.

So a strong post-game, along with great aesthetics means that Drill Dozer will work for you if you're prepared to put up with a lot of longeurs and hand-holding. It is good stuff, I suppose, but it could stand to be a heck of a lot better. There's that Pokémon connection and fascination what with it being Game Freak's first non-Poké game for a good while at the time, but it just isn't up to the standards of a Nintendo platformer as far as I'm concerned.

That said I'm a little shocked that it never saw a follow-up, though I believe main character Jill was an assist trophy in at least one Smash Bros. Which is where she belongs, really, though I can see how the Drill Dozer would work as a playable fighter. Who knows, maybe they'll turn up in the current Fighter Pass, but it's not likely as that need that space for more identikit, dull-as-ditchwater Fire Emblem tossers. Ahem. Excuse me.

Oh! The ending is really cool, thematically. That's worth mentioning. Possibly.