Oil's Well is one of the most original arcade-style titles published this year for the home computer. Its method of play is refreshingly different from anything else, which is important because the concept of the game (munch the dots) has been overworked. The appeal of Oil's Well is the visual puzzle: can I get there before they do and what route should I take?
This is a maze game and each of the eight boards consists of six horizontal tunnels connected by vertical tunnels, all of which are strewn with oil pellets to be gobbled. What's really new about Oil's Well is that you don't move a single character around the board. Instead, you control the movement of a drilling bit that leaves a trail of pipe behind as it moves from its starting position near the top of the screen. You may not turn the drilling bit back on itself or your pipeline, which means you can't run right through any maze. Using the joystick button, you retract the pipe as far as you want, even all the way back to its starting position.
Of course, while you are busy gobbling oil pellets there are a few nasties roaming the maze and they enter randomly from the sides of the screen. Oozies will cost you a life if one runs into any section of your pipe but your drilling bit can go right through them for extra points. Land mines, on the other hand, will pass harmlessly through your pipes but will blow up your drilling bit on contact. So you really have to know exactly which of your enemies are where at all times.
Each maze is arranged so that there is no simple path. You drill for some distance, planning your route to "eat" all pipe destroying Oozies, then retract your pipeline and drilling bit to take off in other directions. Getting down to the bottom tunnel can be impossible without the help of gobbling the rare petromin tablets, which slow your enemies to a crawl and allow you to finish off a board.
Each time you successfully clear all the dots in a maze, you move on to the next level and construction workers on the surface (top of screen) build another section of your refinery. The graphics improve stunningly with each new level and the difficulty of the maze designs escalates in similar fashion. All in all, a well-rounded, polished, frantically-paced challenge with staying power.
You'll be happy to know that the amount of time it takes to extend your pipeline down into the maze is in no way equal to the amount of time it takes to retract it. This means that you can do some fairly impressive daredevil maneuvers. For example, you can snake your way down to one of the lowest levels and wander around while one of the destructive enemies makes his relentless way towards you on a top level. Whistle and go about your business nonchalantly until the eleventh hour then retract quickly into safety.
Gobble small sections of the maze at a time by retracting the drill often. Remember: he who drills and runs away lives to drill another day.