For the past ten years or so, developer Game Freak has been living in a Pokémon world. The company has been dedicated to creating sequel after sequel to Nintendo’s acclaimed and extremely popular series of portable RPGs. Before becoming the premier Pok¿-producers, the Freaks were responsible for such games as the action/puzzle game Mendel Palace for the NES and the platformer Pulseman for Sega’s Genesis.
Now, the company is returning to its platforming roots with Drill Dozer. In Dozer, you play the role of Jill, the daughter of the boss of a band of good-natured thieves known as the Red Dozers. A far more evil gang called the Skullkers ambushed Jill’s dad and stole the Red Dozers’ prized red diamond. With dad out of commission, Jill is forced to get back the family treasure and stop the Skullkers’ wicked plans.
She does this by hopping into the titular Drill Dozer, a bipedal tank armed with a highly destructive drill. As one might expect, the game’s stages are designed to take full advantage of the Dozer’s unique abilities. There are ample walls, floors, and ceilings that can be bored through to open up new paths through the rather expansive stages. Additionally, smaller obstacles like desks and statues will block you way, but a quick bit of drilling will take care of them. Of course, the levels are populated with lots of Skullker drones, but they’re typically just as vulnerable as the random hazards.
Getting in Gear
When you begin each stage, your Drill Dozer is relatively weak, only able to sustain its drilling motions for a short burst. Hidden within each area, however, are two new gears, with add an extra level of power to the drill. The drill is operated by pressing the GBA’s shoulder buttons, and when it starts spinning, a meter appears on the screen, displaying what “gear” the drill is in. Once you’ve upgraded to at least second gear, you can quickly release and re-press the shoulder button at the proper moment to send the drill into its next gear, resulting in a longer drill time. Third gear allows you to keep the drill spinning even longer.
Finding the new gears is required to clear each stage, as there are many barriers that can only be passed by taking advantage of the extra power that the gears grant. You’ll also discover other drill-centric obstacles that can be manipulated with the drill. Inserting the drill into certain machines will allow you to spin doors open or turn dials on locks. Certain blocks can be dug into, allowing the Dozer to remain in midair until you rebound away. Boring into special lifts allow the Dozer to be carted to different parts of the level (just don’t let go until you reach where you want to be). Given that all you really do in the game is run, jump, and drill, the designers have created a lot of unique gameplay elements around those abilities.
Actually, you can do a bit more than just dig with your drill. During a couple stages, you gain the ability to fly and swim in the Drill Dozer. Although these stages add some welcome variety to the game, they’re both somewhat awkward to control. Even though I appreciated doing something new in the game, I found myself wanting to rush through these stages and return to the more traditional style of gameplay.