Drill Dozer Review: The Best GBA Platformer

Drill Dozer Review feature

Drill Dozer Review

Drill Dozer is perhaps one of the best platformers on the GBA and one of the Game Boy Advance’s more obscure games. Drill Dozer was released late in the game boy advance’s lifecycle, September 2005 in Japan and February 2006 in North America. Over here, in Europe, we had to wait until the Wii U Virtual Console re-release in 2016!

Drill Dozer comes to us from Game Freak, the very same people who made Pulseman & Bushi Seiryūden: Futari no Yūsha (They also made a small series called ‘Pokémon’). Key players from Game Freak worked on the game including Ken Sugimori who directed the game and Junichi Masuda serving as the producer. So why has Drill Dozer become such an underrated GBA game?

The Nintendo DS launched in late 2004, this console sadly plunged Drill Dozer into obscurity. People just weren’t buying as many Game Boy Advance games and who could blame them! As a result, most people only recognize the game from the Drill Dozer Smash Bros assist trophy.

It’s worth mentioning Drill Dozer is one of two cartridges for the Game Boy Advance to feature rumble support with the other being WarioWare: Twisted, the cartridge itself has a motor built into the game.  This rumble support was implemented to Drill Dozer Wii U Virtual Console version also and feels great! There is an option to turn it off in the menu if you like, but personally, I can see why Game Freak went out of their way to include this feature.

Drill Dozer Cartridge example
image credit: Launchbox

Plot

Throughout Drill Dozer you play as Jill, the daughter of Doug the leader of the Red Dozers, a gang of bandits obsessed with drilling and digging (Naming puns are everywhere and are carried over from the also pun heavily Japanese translation with Jill being called Dori Kururi with the ‘Kururi’ roughly translating to turning or rotating. Jill = Drill, Doug = Dug, get it!?).  

The game opens with Jill, in her Drill Dozer busting her way into the hideout of a rival gang, the Skullkers. The Skullkers have roughed up Jill’s father and stolen the Red Diamond, a gift from Jill’s late mother, and the Red Dozers are determined to get it back.

Drill Dozer review RED DIAMOND

Drill Dozer: Gameplay

The Drill Dozer acts somewhat as it sounds, it’s a bipedal walking tank with a large drill attached to it. Jill sits in the top half of the dozer and controls it from there. It is somewhat reminiscent of the mecha Tron Bonne uses from the Mega-Man series; in fact, this game reminds me a lot of the Mega-Man X series at times, especially the sprite design and some of the music.

As you can imagine from a game with this many drilling puns in it the main gameplay mechanic here is drilling. Now, this may seem a little simple, but let me tell you it gets quite complex as your progress through the game.

In each of Drill Dozer’s varied levels, you will find two additional gears, these gears are used to powerup your drill, which each one offering another level of power to Jill’s drill to a maximum of three. Progression through the levels is usually controlled by this system, for example, on the earlier levels, there are barriers which can only be destroyed once Jill has found the gears hidden. I like this type of guided, yet unguided gameplay a lot. It makes you feel like you solved the puzzle once you finally find the next gear and is very satisfying.

Drill Dozer screenshot with gear

It’s not just the gear system you are playing with, Drill Dozer slowly adds many gameplay layers on top of the core drilling mechanic. You have colour coordinated tunnels which Jill can traverse using her drill, Red requires you to rotate your drill to the right which you do by holding down the ‘R’ button, but there are also blue tunnels which require you to spin your drill the other way which is done by pressing ‘L’. This is just one example of how Drill Dozer keeps you on your toes.

Drill Dozer red and blue tunnels

Each level adds at least one new mechanic for you to learn and master while retaining everything you learnt along the way, this just goes to show that Game Freak isn’t afraid to really hunker down on one game mechanic.

Jill ability, Jelly block

As I was saying earlier, the way you progress through levels is slightly guided, yet leaves you feeling free to go at your own pace. Level design is done such a great way, each level has a sense of freedom and room for exploration, I would liken this to say Warioland 4, rather than a Super Mario Bros type platformer. Drill Dozer wants you to explore and does a great job of placing items and showing paths you just can’t reach until you upgrade or find another gear.

Drill Dozer red and blue tunnels

Each area culminates with an end of level boss. These bosses are a lot of fun and are very well designed, you are not always told what their weak spots are figuring it out is very rewarding & usually revolves around using one of the mechanics that level has taught you.

Drill Dozer officer Carrie

A couple of levels give you access to some Yoshi’s Island-style modifications for your drill dozer including the ability to turn the dozer into a submarine, using the drill as a propeller in which might just be on of the first underwater levels in a platformer that does not suck. Later you get access to another type of propeller which makes your Drill Dozer into some kind of pseudo helicopter.

Drill Dozer Review submarine picture

Not all upgrades are level specific, after beating the 1st level you will unlock the shop which you can use between stages. The shop offers various upgrades in exchange for the ‘chips’ you pickup during usual gameplay. I spent most of my chips buying additional energy tanks (very Mega-man-esque!), this meant that Jill could take a few more hits than usual!  

Drill Dozer shop

You will notice as playing several blocks that you cannot break with your normal drill bit. You can purchase upgrades from the shop which will allow you to break them. After finishing the main campaign which takes around 6 hours depending on play style, you are encouraged to go back through past levels with upgrades and extra gears etc to hunt out additional treasures.

Drill Dozer Review unbreakable blocks

If you have read this far you can probably tell, I really like the game. However, there are a few issues I have Drill Breaker. Some of the bosses gimmicks are not always too obvious and, this may be because I’m getting old, I found some of the boss battles pretty baffling at first. Below I am going to put a video of my playthrough I used for the review, some of the later bosses take me a few attempts as you will see! Another thing that is more of a wish rather than an issue is the speed Jill walks in the Drill Dozer, I mean sure, it’s a tank and you can feel the weight of it, but I would have loved a Mario style hold the jump button to run feature at times.

Drill Dozer enemies

Conclusion

Drill Dozer is a hidden gem of a game (I hate that phrase!) that had the misfortune of being released between platforms, becoming somewhat forgotten. The combination of great gameplay and charm really does make Drill Dozer stand out from the crowd, I guess by 2005 Game Freak really knew how to get the most out of the Game Boy Advance’s hardware. I can only wish for Drill Dozer Nintendo Switch edition, It would be a perfect match!

If you have not yet experienced the glory which is Drill Dozer then do yourself a favour and hunt down a copy. Sadly, Drill Dozer’s GBA cart is relatively rare, however, Drill Dozer is available on the Wii U for the time being including rumble! If you would like to install GBA games on your Wii U, please check out my Wii U hacking guide where I go over how to mod your Wii U and install Virtual Console games.

9/10

Rating: 9/10

Drill Dozer Gameplay Video

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *