Review: Dig Dug (3DS eShop / NES)

Slightly soiled

In 1982, Namco released Dig Dug. By that point in time the company had already cemented its place in the gaming history books with enduring classics like Pac-Man and Galaga. Their younger brother Dig Dug never quite reached their heights of popularity, but it's still quite fun in its own right.

As with many early arcade games, your goal here is simple. You must tunnel around single, isolated screens, avoiding and destroying enemies. You dig simply by moving in whichever direction you choose, at which point any dirt in your way is removed from the screen, and you destroy enemies either by inflating them with your air pump, or creatively tunnelling in such a way that a loose boulder will fall and crush them behind you. If you choose to employ the latter method, you get some additional — and well-deserved — points for style.

The NES port is extremely faithful to the arcade original, with its simple fun translating very well. You can either play alone or alternate with a friend, which is nice, but the 3DS Virtual Console version doesn't really add much in the way of unique value. In fact, in one case, it can even be seen as a liability.

For starters, the main features of a 3DS re-release are always going to be the portability factor and the restore points. In the former category it gets full marks, as Dig Dug is exactly the kind of game that's best in small doses on the go. In the latter, however, it suffers from the same fate as any score-attack game: there's really no need to them, as the entire point of the game in the first place is to measure your skill. You can use the restore points to cheat the game, certainly, but there's no value in doing so, and no other real reason to use them.

But where the 3DS does happen to introduce a small problem of its own is the controls. The circle pad isn't quite suited to a game like Dig Dug, which lets you move in any direction at any time. Unlike Pac-Man which locks you into a rigid maze, Dig Dug lets you change directions whenever you like, and sliding your thumb around the circle pad can sometimes cause Dig Dug to take a fatal detour into a direction you didn't intend. Of course the D-pad is there to eliminate the problem, but for those who find its positioning uncomfortable, that can be disappointing.

Regardless, Dig Dug is still worth a play, especially for older gamers who remember it fondly. The fact that different methods of killing enemies can result in different scores can make for some interesting strategies that need to evolve on the fly. Overall it can feel repetitive though, with only two enemy types and nothing to strive for apart from a better score, and the go-anywhere playing field actually makes it feel ironically barren compared to the restricted play areas of Pac-Man and Galaga.

Of course, the game does have one feature whose charm can't be overstated: the music only plays when you're walking. Playing around with that can make Dig Dug feel like a minor exercise in chiptune improvisation, and we'd have it no other way.

Conclusion

Dig Dug lacks the sense of urgency of some of Namco's other arcade classics, but over 30 years later it's still worth a spin. The restore points don't add much to a score-attack game like this one, but the portability certainly is nice. For an old-school time-waster it holds up just fine, but if you're expecting anything more than that it may be best to leave it buried.