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Dig Dug Digging Strike

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Namco


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NDS Review - 'Dig Dug Digging Strike'

by Joe Keiser on Nov. 13, 2005 @ 1:12 a.m. PST

In Dig Dug Digging Strike you will explore 3D environments on the top screen of the DS, then plunge underground on the bottom screen to dig and connect fault lines that will trap monsters. Only by sinking enemy bosses do players move to the next level – and they will encounter some familiar faces along the way. The dreaded Pooka and Fygar are back to threaten Dig Dug, along with a host of never-before-seen bosses. Dig Dug is armed with a series of thrilling weapons to combat monsters as well as elements from the environment including rolling rocks, quicksand and flowing lava.

Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco
Release Date: October 18, 2005


With the arcade largely marginalized these days, it must be hard for fans of the genre to see a venerable franchise like Dig Dug in the shape it's in – pushed to the fringes of a handheld, with nary a marketing campaign to find its audience. Those people will be happy to know that, regarding Dig Dug: Digging Strike, they are the entirety of the audience, the whole kit and caboodle; the people who need to know have been found. As for everyone else, well, there's a reason they don't push games of this type that hard anymore – there's simply not enough here to push, and certainly not enough for you to want.

Dig Dug: Digging Strike is a title built on basic gameplay mechanics that, while providing a foundation that was solid twenty years ago, has to struggle to keep up now. In the tradition of the best games of this type, the exposition is silly and throwaway – Taizo Hori, hero of the "Dig Dug incident," is jealous of his son Susumu's success as Mr. Driller. Thus, when the next emergency phone call comes in asking for his progeny, he runs to tackle the issue himself. Fortunately for him, it's a problem he's dealt with before – monsters are taking over the surface, so Taizo has to take them out in their underground burrows; his primary goal, though, is to eliminate the largest, most destructive monsters to make their way topside.

The bottom screen of the DS shows the underground action, and emulates the trail-digging, monster-inflating action of the original Dig Dug perfectly. The top screen, then, shows the surface of the single island each level is composed of – the gameplay there is quite similar to the monster-popping antics of the less well-remembered Dig Dug 2. In an appreciable show of restraint, the dual screens are absolutely necessary to the game, and are the only DS-specific feature that's used – you can leave the stylus in its holster for the entire game if you choose, and suffer no detriment to the experience.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Dig Dug: Digging Strike, and the only new thing the game brings to the table, is how the different gameplay elements on each screen interact. There is a large boss monster on the surface of every island level – to claim victory, you will have to defeat this beast, but you can't just inflate it to bursting like you can with every other enemy. Instead, you have to use the Dig Dug 2 trick of collapsing the part of the island the monster is on, causing it to tumble into the sea.

You do this by using the bottom screen to bury huge stakes in the ground. By digging underneath these stakes, you cause them to fall deeper into the earth – get them as deep as possible, and the ground around it will crack. Once enough of those cracks line up, the island will shed some land mass, and if the monster happens to be on the collapsing area, you've completed your task and can move on. Of course, you can't really expect the monster to just wait around on a precarious piece of rock, so collapsing the island requires some precise timing; precision that is backed up by simple, functional controls that again mimic this game's classic precursors.

You'll occasionally get a reprieve in the form of the assistance of Mr. Driller, who can stun the boss monster and manipulate the stakes, either by changing the path of the cracks they create or forcing the stake violently and instantly into the ground. He does this by invoking gameplay from some of the best of Namco's classic arcade games, and the homage to Xevious and Rally X represent the most charming and memorable moments of this game. Of course, you'll spend most of the play time driving stakes and collapsing islands as Taizo, which, while entertaining enough, makes you long for some of the more elaborate Mr. Driller mini-games, or, ironically, the classics compilation disc you could have bought instead of this.

The standard gameplay is passable, then, but if it doesn't wear out its welcome, it's only because the game proper is arcade-short – you'll see credits in less than four hours. During this first play through, the sameness of the levels is mitigated by the handful of new obstacles that appears in each of these levels. Playing the harder difficulty setting and attempting to collect all the bonuses can maybe double this playtime and provides a few new interesting tools, but the "dig everything" mentality of collecting some of the more esoteric extras wears on the patience, and it's then that the game does begin to show real weakness – it doesn't help that by this point, the game is showing you little you haven't seen before. That you can get to this point on your first session of play is particularly jarring.

It's certainly a good thing that the presentation of the game is solid. Expecting this game to reside at the bleeding edge technically would be pretty silly given the heritage of the series and the nature of the system it's appearing on, after all. The 2D artwork and sprites are colorful and thematically consistent with previous games in the series, though, and the retrained use of 3D to represent certain aboveground objects does not look out of place - everything about it looks just fine. The audio resides in a similar qualitative space – everything, down to the music only playing when the character is moving, is thematically consistent and sounds good enough, though nothing really exceeds expectation.

With the in-game presentation mired in to-be-expected mundanity, it is actually the interstitial cut scenes that manage to stand out. While barely animated and simply drawn, the antics of Taizo and Mr. Driller are actually quite charming, and the childlike structure of the artwork is button-cute. While the dialogue consists mostly of tips for the next level, and there is of course little to no plot to speak of, there are enough winks to the history of the Dig Dug and Mr. Driller games to delight those of us who found great joy in this series' previous outings.

And in the end, that's who this game is for – deeply invested fans of the series and genre buffs. Even for these people, though, there are better examples of this type of game elsewhere. There's a reason Dig Dug hasn't found a place for itself next to Pac-Man and other truly great arcade games of the early 80's; everything works well enough, but the replayability just isn't there comparatively. Spring twenty years forward, and this still seems to hold true – the only difference now is that there are many more examples of arcade-like action that do hold up for longer than Dig Dug: Digging Strike. Unfortunately for Taizo, this includes most of the Mr. Driller games; truly, the son has eclipsed the father. If your eyes lit up at the very idea of a new game with Dig Dug in the title, you probably won't dislike this game. To everyone else, think about what you're actually looking for with Dig Dug: Digging Strike. Chances are you'll be better serviced with any one of Namco's arcade collections.

Score: 6.5/10

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