Originally hitting arcades in 1982, this NES conversion of Dig Dug followed a few years later (albeit only in Japan until arriving on the Wii's Virtual Console service in 2008). It's a classic Namco title that sees you digging your way around a single screen defeating (and sometimes fleeing) enemies. Successfully clear the screen and you move onto the next round to do the same thing, the aim of the game being to acquire as many points as possible. You keep going until your lives are gone, then you go again because you very nearly got the score you were after and feel sure you can manage it this time.
It's straightforward enough to play with you using the d-pad to move in four directions, automatically creating tunnels in the soil as you go. If your controller of choice has a left analogue stick you can use that instead, but the d-pad is better suited for quick changes of direction as it's easier to avoid hitting the wrong one. There are a few enemies to deal with in each round but only two types: the round goggle-wearing Pookas and the dragon-like Fygars - the former simply wander about whilst the latter also breath fire. Though they begin confined to tunnels the enemies can turn ghostly to pass through the soil to come after you; should they walk in to you or should you get burnt by a Fygar's flame it results in a loss of life.
To clear each round you must dispatch the enemies, and to do this the game arms you with an air-pump. Get close to one of the troublesome creatures and you can fire the pump at them using the A or B button – or actually any button you've mapped to one of the two in the Virtual console menu. Whichever button you opt to use it inflates the enemy until they pop, giving you one less to worry about and awarding you some points, too.
An alternative way to defeat the Pookas and Fygars is to drop a rock onto their head. There are a few scattered throughout the soil and creating a tunnel underneath will cause them to drop; crush an enemy with it and you will be awarded more points than if you'd taken them out with the air-pump. You have to be careful to avoid getting hit yourself, though, as naturally this results in loss-of-life. Drop two rocks in a round and a vegetable appears which you can collect for extra points.
There are some simple sound effects in the game as enemies move about, collide with you or pop. They're very basic but work well. Particular credit goes to the music, which whilst fun-sounding adds some tension to a playthrough with a simple trick: it cuts out whenever you stop moving.
Visually there are less colours used than in the arcade original, most noticeably with the presence of a black sky, but it matches the look reasonably closely. Nevertheless the game looks quite basic (as is to be expected given its age) but the action is easy to follow and each character has a unique look. Every few rounds the colour of the soil changes to vary things a little and there are also a few good touches such as the way enemies inflate before popping or the way our hero spins when defeated, his eyes turning to dazed crosses.
Whilst this is a decent version of Dig Dug it would be remiss of us not to mention that there is another option available to Wii U owners in the form of Namco Museum. It may cost a little bit more but it does contain Dig Dug along with four other titles. As far as Dig Dug is concerned the compilation version has a settings menu to adjust lives, difficulty and bonuses whilst the visuals are a closer match to the arcade, though the action is zoomed in a little, scrolling as you move along. This NES version has the whole playing area visible which can make plotting a way to take out multiple enemies at once a bit easier, but the Namco Museum approach works well and is unlikely to cause any trouble.
One mode available here that isn't in Namco Museum, however, is the two-player mode. If it was a simultaneous affair, it might be a selling point, but it remains one person at a time, with the second player getting to have a go when the first loses a life. This might be the preferred option if the person you are playing with is an impatient sort, but a similar experience can be created by simply playing through until it's Game Over and then handing them the controller.
It's a simple game that may not offer much variety in its gameplay, but it remains fun to play as you find new ways to build up those points and discover tricks to help you out. One thing to remember is that your air-pump will pass through thin walls, allowing you to have a protective barrier as you take an enemy out. You shouldn't get too cocky though, as the Fygars' fire-breath can also pass through those walls. There are 12 stages in the game with varying arrangements and numbers of rocks, Pookas and Fygars, but after the twelfth stage the final five repeat until all your lives are gone.
Defeating enemies lower down in the soil will also reward you with more points, as will taking out multiple enemies with a rock. These are things to keep in mind when chasing a high score, but if you're not careful you will find yourself surrounded by enemies with no way to escape. Sometimes you may start to inflate one enemy only to find another rushing at you at you, at which point you find yourself running from both; if you then find a way to crush the pursuing pair with a rock, however, it is very satisfying.
This is a decent port of Dig Dug, providing plenty of entertainment as players chase after a high score. It's also a lot of fun: apart from this (and Mortal Kombat 3) how many games have you inflating your enemies with an air-pump until they burst? The problem is Dig Dug is already available on the Wii U eShop as part of a compilation. Compared to that version this release has an unremarkable two-player mode and lets you see the full playing area, but it's not enough to make this a better choice. Unless you've played this version before and have a particular fondness for it, you are better off spending a little extra and getting Namco Museum; the improved visuals are a plus, but mainly (with four other games included) it's just better value for money.