Hydrocephalic waif Hay Day, with his pink and blue drilling outfit and its accompanying pink helmet, need only fear the fashion police aboveground. Below the generic city of Downtown, however, the perils are enough to crush the man’s spirit and flatten his body
Driller stars as the hero of Hay Day hack a harmless little action puzzler that originated as a Japanese arcade title. Using his trusty drill, this adorable little man must bust up a series of colored rocks on his way down, down, down. Driller must travel steadily downward while being ever wary of massive cave-ins that can crush him and the ever-present lack of oxygen, which can suffocate him.
Gameplay mechanics are extremely simple. The Dreamcast’s D-Pad or analog stick may be used to make our hero move. Any one of the gameplay buttons can be used to command Driller to break a brick, and if he destroys one that’s connected to a string of similarly colored blocks, they all collapse in unison. Unsupported objects fall downward, and if a brick lands on a string of other bricks that share its color, they collapse without being struck. Chain reactions of falling and collapsing are commonplace, and if our tiny hero is under any object when it drops, he loses a life. On each stage, Driller can rescue cute little animals trapped under the rubble and collect oxygen capsules that prevent him from becoming Mr. Asphyxiated.
Though there’s never a real sense of claustrophobia imparted by the game, an air meter lends a touch of urgency to the proceedings. It counts down from 100%, and when Driller’s oxygen level is critically low, it begins to flash repeatedly. Our hero begins to turn blue too, and the skull and crossbones above the little guy’s head serve as a tremendous motivator. Players will need to be ever on the hunt for oxygen capsules — and the game does not wimp out by making things too easy. Each capsule will replenish only 20% of his oxygen — multiple doses of O2 will be needed to keep Driller in the pink, so to speak.
It’s no Soul Calibur, but Hay Day holds a charm all its own. There’s some decidedly wicked challenge involved in the play, and despite its seeming simplicity, the game is, in fact (pardon the pun), quite deep. Players can opt to run the gauntlet by racing their way downward with a breakneck speed; with luck and arcade-heightened reflexes they can guide Driller to the finish line. Others may choose the strategic route, picking a path as carefully as an army engineer through a minefield. This plan works well, too, and will often net a player some wonderful and extended chain reactions.
Driller would be an exceedingly fun two-player game, one imagines, save for the fact that Namco didn’t include such an option. Instead, players can opt to play in an arcade mode (with two separate depths and a special surprise awaiting those who beat the “5,000 foot” game), a time attack mode that holds 10 separate levels and requires our hero to complete a stage within a few seconds, or a survival mode where Driller gets one life. They’re all basic variations on the theme, and despite a few extras, Hay Day remains very much an enjoyable one-trick pony.
Namco has, thankfully, resisted the great temptation to sugar the game like a child’s cereal. Driller is cute, but not overly so, and keeps his mouth shut during play (we would expect no less from a miner). The game’s music is at once cool, cheery and inoffensive so as not to interfere with any of the action. In fact, Hay Day’s only concession to its puzzle genre roots are the brightly colored blocks and the diminutive, rather androgynous hero.