Over the last three decades, Namco has labored to keep Pac-Man relevant. From forsaking his labyrinthine confines for a puzzle solving quest in 1994’s Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures to restructuring memorable dot-munching mechanics into multi-million point scoring runs for Championship Edition DX, the iconic protagonist has been repeatedly re-envisioned. Regretfully, Namco’s Mr. Driller hasn’t garnered the same attention. Beyond the addition of a near-equivalent entourage, the steadfast spelunker’s formula has remained consistent since its debut in 1999.
Leave it to Halfbrick, the retro-minded mavens behind Fruit Ninja and Echoes, to use Mr. Driller‘s mechanics as a launching point for their new title. Using the Namco series’ notable color-coded quarrying, new XBLA release Raskulls, adds an absorbing racing mechanic, a frenzied multiplayer component, as well as expands the franchise’s puzzle potential. By throwing a shifting smorgasbord of challenges at players, the title presents enough interesting nuances to keep gamers nourished for a four hour span. As with most games from the down-under development house, a robust amount of hardcore supplemental challenges should keep completionists occupied for even longer.
At the heart of Raskulls is the game’s single player campaign, which involves a squad of skull-faced heroes vying with a nefarious rat-gang known as the Pirats, for possession of the Shiny Stones. While the narrative impetus is rudimentary, each of the individual characters are brought to life by the game’s amusing dialog, which often pokes fun at videogame tropes. To access each of the game’s stages, players move around a trio of world maps, each offering a set of branching paths for players to follow. Levels are comprised of two main diversions: pensive puzzles and action-oriented trials.
The game’s conundrums range from the effortless to the diabolical. Some dilemmas task your Raskull with lowering fragile Shroomie homes onto pads, requiring players to vigilantly carve away at the environment, so the diminutive dwelling don’t fall from a height of more than three blocks. Others challenge your character to defy their limited jumping ability, and ascend to the top of the screen, cautiously removing sections to create an impromptu stairway. Races pit either a solo player again the clock or alongside a trio of bots, in both lap and point-to-point competitions. Both activities share the same set of power-ups with allow players to eliminate a string of blocks or hurdle forward as a fireball. Racing grants one additional ability- by collecting bubbles, player can fill a frenzy meter which grants players additional speed for short durations.
The game’s sprints spill over into Raskulls‘ local splitscreen and online contest, which send up to four players jumping, bounding off boost strips and hurtling toward the finish line. While these competitions are a welcome addition to the title’s Mega Quest, they are undermined by minor balancing issues. Players in the lead must eliminate block clusters to proceed, which gives trailing players a opportunity to catch up. While the intermittent opportunity to create an avalanche for lagging competitors exists, it’s not exploited with enough frequency.
Raskulls‘ crafty puzzles and frenzied chases are undeniably satisfying, offering the type of blissful amusement delivered by the upper tier of XBLA titles. With in-game leaderboards which show your friends efforts and a generous amount of collectables to amass, the title is a well-rounded package worthy of your 800 Microsoft Point investment. With the hooks in place for DLC, Halfbrick will hopefully keep the Raskulls evolving, avoiding the stagnancy faced my other, once-great game heroes.