I almost feel bad recommending today’s game, Drill Dozer, due to how difficult it can be to track down. Drill Dozer was given to us in 2006 on the GBA by Game Freak, the same makers as the legendary Pokemon series. You know, as much as I love Pokemon, it’s a shame to not see Game Freak branch out more. They tend to experiment just enough to make a game unique while being sure to not shy away from industry standards. Which, really when you think about it, that approach is at times similar to Nintendo’s own approach when it comes to game design. It’s no wonder the two companies ended up with a relationship so intimate that the Game Freak brand is practically synonymous with Nintendo these days. So without further ado, let’s dig in and see just how representative Drill Dozer is regarding Game Freak’s approach to designing video games!
As always, we start with the plot. It should come to no surprise to anyone who likes Pokemon, but Game Freak tends to keep their stories very child friendly and almost Saturday morning cartoon like. We play as Jill, daughter to the leader of a gang of criminals known as the Red Dozers. After her father is injured in an attack by a rival gang, Jill takes up the mantle of leadership for the Red Dozers and sets off to return a family jewel stolen in the assault. Along the way, she’s backed up by other members of the gang and her trusty riding mobile armor: the Drill Dozer.
What I love about Drill Dozer is just how solid it is for a platformer. There really isn’t any moment in the game where I felt overly frustrated and all the various abilities have some really great feedback to them. They are quite consistent with their mechanics and the “rules” of each level don’t really change that much. Basically, each level is a semi-open world 2D platformer maze where certain areas are blocked off initially. As you scour the level, you’ll find 2 additional gears to add to the initial gear you tend to start levels off with. For each gear you have, Jill can unleash her drill for longer and thus destroy or activate certain barriers in order to progress further into the level until you eventually reach the stage’s boss.
Which, speaking of Jill’s drill, I think you can figure out by the title of the game that the main method of interaction with the world is drilling. Her Drill Dozer mech comes equipped with a giant drill formed out of its 2 hands, providing a “handy” answer to any obstacle that stands in your way. You can drill through walls in most directions, use your drill to activate various turn crank machines, and even reflect most projectiles by drilling into them. It’s nice to see such a centralized ability to the point where everything revolves around it.
Plus, I should add that using the drill itself can be very satisfying. Because Drill Dozer came out at the end of the GBA’s life span, the game had the luxury of being able to play around with some unique tools. One such tool was its Rumble Pack. Whenever you have the drill turned on, your cartridge and GBA will rumble to life and really add a nice visceral feel whenever you are drilling into something. Activate the drill with by pressing the L or R button and rev it for longer by holding it down. After you get the additional gears in the level, you can shift the drill speed up by pressing R at certain peaks while you rev it. In 3rd gear, you can rev the drill almost infinitely and just absolutely wreck anything in your way. Enemies, walls, projectiles; you name it. There’s something just pleasant and almost cathartic about just drilling through things.
To be honest, that really about wraps things up for the game. The levels are well designed and properly herd you in the correct direction while still giving you the freedom to explore when needed. It’s nice to have to find gears in order to progress further into the level, especially since they are never hidden that much. The game has a healthy number of bosses that, while sometimes limiting how long you can use your drill on them, still provide some fun and interesting uses for your drill. And that brings me back to how I absolutely adore just how everything revolves around drilling. Drill Dozer is extremely focused around its mechanic and makes sure almost everything tries its best to support it.
In the end, that’s why I can’t help but recommend and highly support Drill Dozer. It’s just so extremely smooth in everything it does. Each level slowly builds up your drilling power at a nice pace, the game has wonderful music and colorful visuals, and its hands down one of the best platforming experiences you can have on the GBA.
Now, as always, I should mention what caveats there are that could potentially limit someone’s enjoyment of this title. First, this game is about drilling. If you don’t like the high pitched whirl of a drill and your GBA rumbling strongly in your hands as you drill through almost everything in this game, this game isn’t for you. Second, the game never really spikes you in the face with a “wow” moment. It makes for a solid and smooth experience, doing so by not really being too wild. Everything revolves around the drill and so that’s what you are going to be using. They do introduce some very interesting ways to use it, such as drilling into a propeller to fly while controlling your ascent with revving, but the game will never shock you by pulling something out of left field completely. I know that sounds weird to criticize a game for staying too much on target, but I don’t mean it as a bad thing. Simply some people like certain games because they offer something truly unique and completely random that it is rarely ever done. The only thing that Drill Dozer does is be extremely awesome and pleasant, which there are a number of games that do that. If there weren’t a number of great games out there, I wouldn’t have as many Game Recommendation articles as I have. Although I will say that the rumble pack really helps with feedback more than any other game that comes to mind, outside of the possible exception of Star Fox 64 with an N64 rumble pack. Which even then, Star Fox 64 only comes close to matching Drill Dozer, never actually outperform it. So, caveats aside; if you have a GBA, hunt down Drill Dozer. It’s a truly great game and you won’t regret having gotten it. Ironically, there’s no smoother ride than one in a constantly vibrating drilling machine.