How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. There aren't really any movement upgrades. Most gating is done by walls you have to remove in one way or another. Otherwise it does have a Metroidvania-like interconnected level design with plenty of secrets to find.
Primary Challenge: Exploration Focus
Time to beat: ~6 hours
Buy Drilly Willis if you like…
- Trippy and Unique Artstyles
- Non-linear character studies
- AI Exploitation
- Stories about Music
- Collecting Power-ups
▼ Review continues below ▼
I will always have a soft spot for passion projects, and I always try to do everything I can to encourage them. So even when a game like Drilly Willis comes along where first impressions aren’t particularly great, I still do everything I can to find the positives in the experience. For most of the 5 hours it took me to beat Drilly Willis, I was having a fun time. It captures the addictive loop of finding meaningful upgrades at a rapid pace quite nicely. Unfortunately this game trips pretty hard when it comes to the combat and bosses, with its hardest fall coming right at the end of the game. Because of this, it’s really difficult for me to give this one a general recommendation. Drilly Willis has good parts, but none of it is good enough to make it stand out among its competitors, nor is it likely enough to make up for its more frustrating features.
Putting all of Drilly Willis’ gameplay elements aside though, in a weird way you could look at this game as a character study. The premise of the game is our hero Drilly Willis was just casually walking out on stage when some jerk named Flash Clappy in a jealous rage teleports Mr. Willis to a banished world . Within this realm you find everything else that Clappy hates, including many other innocent characters who merely slighted Clappy in small ways. This sort of turns the banished realm into an exploration of Clappy’s psyche, and ironically we learn far more about him as a character than we do about our protagonist, with the titular Drilly Willis ultimately being just a generic talented “good guy.” Analyzing the game in this way actually has a lot of entertainment potential. Projecting personality traits onto Flash Clappy could even help you understand yourself better, and all kinds of pretentious symbolism could be applied to every aspect of the game to give it meaning. What would normally be bedrock for most titles is quite brittle here, so you can dig as deep as you like and may even find some gemstones of the profound along the way.
Besides looking for meaning where there might not actually be any, the banished world is still a lot of fun to explore in general. There are secrets packed into every screen, and as your abilities expand, backtracking to older areas opens up more possibilities. Most of what you’ll be finding are the usual incremental upgrades to health and “ammo”, but things like “money” and straight damage upgrades are also possible. They’re all things that really help mitigate the tedium of the combat (which I will be getting to shortly.) The level design achieves brilliance at times, even if it usually hovers just above the line where it stops being fun. Map design is most certainly Drilly Willis’ strongest feature, even if the graphics make some of the backgrounds hard to look at.
From a Metroidvania standpoint, if you crave hunting down power-ups you are indeed likely going to be satisfied with this aspect of the game. However, Drilly Willis does not feature the kinds of movement upgrades normally associated with the genre. Most items you can’t get initially are locked behind some kind of obstacle that you need to remove, rather than being up somewhere you can’t reach. Fundamentally speaking there’s little difference between these obstacles and a simple locked door, albeit most doors aren’t literally on fire and won’t kill you if you touch them.
It is probably better that Drilly Willis didn’t attempt to do anything wild with its movement though, since the game’s physics can sometimes be a little unpredictable as-is. Collision with walls is a general coding challenge, and it’s something that Drilly Willis usually gets right, but there is that oddball occasion where jank rears its ugly head. Slopes are especially dubious to try and jump off of, which led to more than one death during my playthrough. Walking downward on a slope makes Mr. Willis count as falling as you descend, and you can’t ever jump while you’re in the air. Casually walking through a mostly safe hallway, there were times I tried to jump off a platform only to keep barreling forward into a pit of instant death. The only way I found to deal with this quirk was to stop completely to let Mr. Willis settle into whatever platform he was standing on before jumping. For most of the level architecture this issue won’t even come up, but it’s often enough to make you lose a few minutes of death and respawn time on any given playthrough. The consequences for death are pretty much nonexistent anyway. Even if you haven’t touched a checkpoint within a given screen, you will always respawn at full health and “ammo” from wherever you entered.
Not that there aren’t instances where instant respawning can’t still be incredibly frustrating, and that’s where Drilly Willis’ combat can become a problem – even if design-wise the concepts aren’t actually that bad. Mr. Willis has three modes of attacking. Your main method is bending over awkwardly and drilling enemies with your head. This removes collision damage on that side of Mr. Willis, and it drains enemy health rapidly until they die. Most enemies will bounce off of you while you’re in this drilling state and many of them will continue to rush toward you regardless of the effect on their health. Other enemies are designed to not care at all about your drill, and will just charge through you if you try to jump in and stab them. These guys require some strategy to take down, either by waiting for moments when they stop for whatever reason, or by using one of your other attack methods. Since the drill requires Mr. Willis to hold completely still while using it, it has its drawbacks even if it is the strongest weapon. Your most useful alternative to the drill is the screw attack, which is where Mr. Willis literally chucks screws at his enemies. If you miss, these screws linger for a moment where they land, allowing enemies to run right into them – so basically it’s hard to miss. Traveling around the game world, the screws are the safest and often fastest way to remove enemy obstacles. Unfortunately a lot of bosses are immune to it, so investing a ton of money into upgrading your screw attack’s damage is somewhat dubious. You also have a guitar for which you can find up to seven songs to play. Your basic song shoots a massive note that deals damage, but this costs “Groove” which I’ve been referring to as “Ammo” up until now. Since dying refills your ammo anyway, the limit isn’t generally a problem. The main drawback of using the guitar is that without upgrades you’re left completely vulnerable after each shot, making it useless until you find guitar strings to reduce that lag time. Later on you’ll find songs that slow down time or speed Mr. Willis up, which are more important than you might realize for combat.
The biggest issue with the combat is that most enemies are dumb as bricks, and their HP pool could be described with a similar metaphor. Most of them just run back and forth on their platform or follow an extremely predictable pathway, so dealing more damage to them is more about reducing the time it takes to deal with them and less about mitigating the difficulty. Thanks to the screw attack so many of them can be addressed while Mr. Willis is completely out of their reach, so you can just stand there and rain out your screw-based pain until they go away and you can safely pass. It’s not very engaging.
The challenge does ramp up significantly when you reach the bosses, and not in a good way. Similar to their smaller counterparts, they too have only basic patterns to follow, so dodging them isn’t too difficult. Their HP pools are large enough and opportunities to deal damage are small enough though that the battle of attrition can lead to making dumb mistakes. If you die, the boss restores all of its HP and simply continues their pattern from when you died rather than resetting. Just like in any part of the game, you just respawn from wherever you entered the screen or at the nearest checkpoint. Most fights aren’t hard, just long, so starting over from scratch with their HP feels like a complete waste of time. There are other fights though that completely break all the rules of action game design, where patterns are almost completely random and there aren’t any safe spots on the screen to deal damage from. The final boss has this issue, and to top it off, the game saves the moment you enter its inescapable arena. This means that if you haven’t collected all of the game’s upgrades before engaging in the final fight, you have to start the game over from the very beginning if you want to power-up before trying again. This final battle seems completely impossible, with you dealing minuscule amounts of damage while he is able to take off large percentages of your HP. The solution to this final fight was a bit unconventional, and may even be viewed as a sort of exploit, although I suspect that the way I beat it was the intentional outcome. It took sheer determination to figure out a method to end the fight, and all the while the game’s music and sound effects started to become more and more grating. The sour taste the final boss left in my soul most certainly polluted my more positive feelings toward everything else in the game.
The ending to Drilly Willis was somewhat heartwarming however, and there are a few chuckles to be had throughout the entire game if you like random and bizarre humor. Analyzing Drilly Willis strictly from a mechanical game design standpoint, it’s just not that fun. The exploration is great, but basically every other activity is either tedious or broken in some way. There is a lot of heart in this game though, and it’s very clear that its creator loves this creation. If you took one look at the game’s store page and thought “That looks cool, I want to play it”, then by all means I think you could find a special experience here. I do think there’s some good potential here for some fun over-analysis, but otherwise the first impression you got from looking at the trailer and screenshots on Drilly Willis’ store page is probably spot-on.
Bosses especially are an exercise in either patience or judicious exploitation of the game's more broken mechanics - plus patience.
Not really a focus for the game, however there are a few times when the collision detection on some platforms won't work properly, making you fail to jump at bad times.
It's genuinely fun to collect power ups and explore Drilly Willis' world.
There really aren't any puzzles in Drilly Willis
It's a bit disjointed and intentionally trippy, but there are some heart warming moments and relatable themes.
Style or no, there were some backgrounds that legitimately hurt my eyes.
There's some talent in the game's music, but it's often too repetitious, and the game's sound effects drown out a lot of it
There are no difficulty modes or meaningful choices to diversify a second playthrough
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