Stop me if you’ve heard this one before; Drill Dozer is the best Game Boy Advance release, and remains GameFreak’s greatest work.
W…why didn’t you stop me? There’s no way that’s the first time you’ve heard anyone say that. There’s been others…right?
Whoa. Wow…alright, let me process all this. A lot of emotions going on right now. Maybe what’s best is if I explain myself. But be warned; my adoration of Drill Dozer is so strong that you may end up feeling the same way…without even playing the game.
I’m of the mind that GameFreak really needs to stretch their wings more. Of course, I like so many others need my dose of Pokémon every couple of years. But if it comes at the cost of less wholly new ideas, then I’d be more than happy to sit a year out if it means more experiments like HarmoKnight.
What kick started this feeling was Drill Dozer, a game that couldn’t be further away from their pocket monster work. What impresses me most is how far the studio managed to take the drilling concept, one that is nothing more than turning your drill clockwise and counter (through the R and L button, respectively). GameFreak builds on this not by layering on extra abilities, but by building better levels and enemies. Your comfort with the mechanic grows along with the game, and when you feel like the time has come to settle in, Drill Dozer throws another creative obstacle at you. In time you’ll be latching onto enemies and spinning your drill in the opposite direction to launch yourself away, and speeding through the tubular innards of a boss, spinning your drill left and right to work your way through its system. It’s amazing how varied Drill Dozer remains throughout. It reminds me of Punch-Out!! in that sense, as your abilities remain the same from the beginning straight through to the end. The game grows with you, and it’s hard to not be impressed.
If you’re not familiar with Drill Dozer, it casts you as Jill, the daughter of a gang leader. This troop is known as The Red Dozers, a group that specializes in theft. A rival gang steals a family heirloom, and Jill sets out to get it back. The game is played as a 2D sidescroller, with players placed in large areas with plenty of connected rooms and pathways. What’s unique here is the layouts; areas are blocked off, and only become available when the right tools are available. As you start off each stage, Jill’s means of conveyance, the titular Drill Dozer, operates at a speed marked as “1”. As Jill continues on, she can find two additional gears, each putting some extra ‘oomph’ behind that drill of hers. As you hold down the R (or L) button, the game’s HUD changes to display a gear gauge (as you can see above). In holding the button down, a meter fills up, and when it reaches the end players are able to switch to the next gear by quickly releasing the R button and holding it own again. While entirely superficial, the use of the game’s built-in rumble is divine (and doesn’t feel at all cheap like the DS Rumble Pak), as it simulates the use of Jill’s drill. It’s revs and whirrs just the same as the on-screen action. It’s beneficial too, as it works as another notifier of when to change gears. Honestly, it’s the best use of rumble in a game…ever. Considering how clunky the built-in rumble can feel in these cartridges, its mechanical feel suits Drill Dozer perfectly.
Oh, and while I tend to not make much about a game’s visuals, the sprite work in Drill Dozer is beautiful. The enemies are diverse, but their designs remain cohesive. It really does feel like your facing off against a rival gang in that Batman kind of way. The bosses outclass everything else though, impressing with their size and animation.
Drill Dozer is the product of a developer finally unleashed. For as progressive the Pokémon series can be from one installment to the next, there’s just ideas and features that wouldn’t suit the series. Drill Dozer is a collection of ideas long spent unused, but solid nonetheless. The core concept of drilling is so strong that GameFreak poured their efforts throughout the game, not figuring out new ways to bolster a limp mechanic.
It’s nuts how solid Drill Dozer is. Do what it takes to play this gem.