Drill Dozer Review

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Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Game Freak

Platform: Game Boy Advance
Reviewed on Game Boy Advance

The Red Dozers are an honorable gang of thieves who use the incredible power of massive drilling machines to execute otherwise impossible heists. The Skullker gang, led by the nefarious Groog, is comprised of far less ethical lawbreakers. Happy to destroy anyone who gets in their way, the Skullkers have bribed the city's police into harassing the Red Dozers. The Skullkers even went so far as to beat Big Boss Doug, the Red Dozer leader, nearly to death. Now Doug's daughter is taking a break from school, taking command of a Drill Dozer and taking down the Skullkers.

Kyle Ackerman

There's something about the small screen and the pixilated graphics that can transform even the most violent game on the Game Boy Advance into an endearing romp, but Drill Dozer goes out of its way to be cutesy while still providing classic side-scrolling platformer fun. Don't worry – the candy-sweet shell won't detract from a serious game that ekes every last shred of complexity the GBA can muster, offering gameplay that ranges from straightforward to exceedingly challenging.

Drill Dozer's heroine, Jill, may be a member of the Red Dozer criminal gang, but she hardly looks the part. She sports gigantic pink ponytails, and even her Drill Dozer has personality. The massive, anthropomorphic piece of hardware sports a sinister grin as it straps Jill in for a hard day's pilfering, and boasts a drill bit capable of cracking the toughest of safes. It's exuberant when its gear gets upgraded, and it can even function without Jill. That essence of cute pervades more than just Jill and her Dozer. The enemies in Drill Dozer, be they Skullker criminals or corrupt police officers, look more like toys than typical miscreants.

The Drill Dozer is capable of many feats, and as platformers are wont to do, becomes more versatile over time, gaining the ability to function as a submarine, drill through previously impenetrable objects, or fly like a helicopter. Gears, however, drive the game. The Drill Dozer is a three-speed drill, but spends so much time drilling through enemies, demolishing walls and deflecting bullets that the gears regularly wear out – conveniently at the end of every mission. As a result, the early parts of any mission involve finding the more powerful second and third gears so that Jill can return to previously impenetrable areas and wrap up the mission.

What makes Drill Dozer really stand out, especially as a side-scrolling platformer on an older handheld, is the level design. Drill Dozer's cleverly conceived levels are filled with the usual gamut of running, jumping, dodging and – of course – drilling. But these are constantly varied and combined into sequences that can be straightforward and intuitive, or devilishly complicated. Combat is unique, sometimes requiring you to unscrew a key bolt in a police robot or defuse a ticking bomb, rather than just drilling enemies into oblivion. The whole time you drill, the rumble-enabled cartridge makes the whole GBA shake, evoking the massive earth-moving equipment of the game.

The game goes from extremely simple to requiring unbelievably complex sequences of jumps and drilling, but the difficulty increases only gradually. Also, the hardest (nearly impassible) levels are optional side-quests that aren't necessary to finish the plot. Thankfully, the game has frequent checkpoints and finds a great balance between old-school instant-death traps (such as spikes or bottomless pits), patterns requiring superhuman precision, and casual play. Fall victim to a trap, or fail to execute the right sequence of moves, and you'll simply restart the screen (rather than enduring the entire level again) at the expense of ten energy points. Jill's Drill Dozer starts the game with 100, and by the time I'd first encountered a challenging sequence, I had 400 health. That's a lot of retries for a difficult sequence.

Fortunately, most of the sequences you'll have to replay are in optional areas – Drill Dozer does a brilliant job of herding you along through the game, gradually introducing the complexity that makes solving levels satisfying, and matches that clever build with increasingly complex, but engaging boss battles. All together, Drill Dozer is a package that will keep you busy through many extended gaming sessions.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 30, 2006 12:09 PM.

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