Dig Dug is an arcade title developed and published by Bandai Namco. Released to mixed praise in 1982 with many initially loving the game, Dig Dug was quickly turned into an arcade smash hit, one which even today is still rated one of the most popular coin-operated video games of all time. For many this is seen as quite an achievement and rightfully so. Now though, we’ve seen it arrive on Xbox One as part of the Bandai Namco Game Arcade Series.
The game’s objective is quite simple; players control the protagonist Dig-Dug and are given three valuable lives and the job of eliminating each of the underground-dwelling monsters on screen. This is done by filling them full of air until they explode, something which can be achieved with around four pumps. Alternatively, squashing them with any of the rocks found within the level will also defeat the enemy and once all are gone the player may then progress to the next level.
There are two distinct types of enemies within the game; these are known as Pookas and Fygars. Pookas are small, red little monsters that are round in shape and wear yellow goggles, posing little immediate danger to the player. Flygars are green dragons who can breathe fire as an attack option. Both of the enemies in the game are able to move slightly faster than Dig Dug however at the start of each round the enemies stay within their own little pre-dug trenches, patrolling backwards and forwards in order to give the player some valuable time to plot a plan of action. Unfortunately, they soon break free from the trenches and start a pursuit on the player. So far so easy right? Certainly not.
Just five levels into the game I had found myself highly challenged by each of the enemies and quickly found myself returning back to level one and repeating everything I had just done. But this wasn’t down to enemies growing more powerful or gaining any bigger attacks, but simply due to their overall behaviour. For the first few levels enemies sit in their trenches for a short while but with each further stage the challenge raises as the enemies quickly start to hunt the player down merely seconds into the level start. No longer do you have the chance to plan for the attack and with enemies moving quicker with each level, it is important for each one to be dispatched as quickly as possible.
Of course, just failing every time is no fun and a few attempts later I was starting to learn the rules, and it didn’t take long for me to see that my downfall was caused by my own impatience. In any game that allows an enemy to be defeated players look to do so as quickly as possible. Being a long time gamer I am no different, so learning that I needed to play the game more reservedly took some getting used to. When pumping an enemy, there is just one other option – an option that would prove invaluable for the rest of the game.
Mid-pump, the player may choose to give up pumping and simply bolt! In doing this the partially inflated enemy is left to slowly deflate leaving the player to make a mad dash or begin to engage with other enemies. Doing this opens a small opportunity to make a move to the one other attacking option available in the game. Throughout each level gigantic boulders are placed randomly around the screen and digging a path directly under any of these boulders causes it to drop just a second later onto the unsuspecting head of anything underneath. This can obviously be extremely useful when being chased by an angry mob of enemies and utilising these giant rocks along with knowing when to kill and not to kill is where the true skill lies.
By level ten however enemies barely stick to the trenches assigned to them at the start of a level and almost immediately start to make their way through the dirt (dug or not) in order to bring about Dig Dugs demise. Simply coming into contact with enemies is enough to have a life taken away and the game quickly becomes more of a frantic rush to the boulders rather than a well-planned route to each enemy. This is made much more difficult by the dastardly Fygars, as they give chase breathing fire along the way and when mixed with the Pookas who seemingly having the knowledge of every turn you’re about to take, can make things rather overwhelming.
Unfortunately this for me is where Dig Dug starts to fault. Don’t get me wrong, a challenging game is by no means a bad game, after all, you only have to look at the Dark Souls series to see that a hard game can still be a great game. However things can very quickly seem unfair and the fun factor starts to drain as each restart results in death just seconds later.
With this being a re-release of the classic original, Bandai Namco have kindly placed the option of extra lives as well as starting from any previously beaten round into the game, but with enemies gaining so much speed so quickly it feels like even ten lives wouldn’t help me to progress too far. Something that initially felt really engaging and addictive, quickly turns into an overpowered affair in which little chance of progression is seen.
To find that Namco has included an infamous Dig Dug glitch option in the game settings actually makes this experience even worse, making me question if they had any knowledge of what players actually enjoyed all those years ago. The glitch in question simply causes a halt to any gameplay progression if an enemy is defeated with a rock at the same time as it is being pumped with air; the only fix being a full reset. Additions of such options are now seen in the other Namco re-releases such as Pac-Man and Ms Pac-Man, however in this case it just feels this inclusion mocks the player rather than anything else.
So is Dig Dug worth buying? Well, if you take it as part of Namco’s own 3-in-1 pack with two other great titles then it’ll provide a decent challenge. However as a single purchase it falls short of the quality of the other Arcade Game Series re-releases.