Dig Dug is one of those retro games that is an established classic, but which relatively few people seem to be aware actually got a rather enjoyable sequel.
Most of this is likely due to the fact that the 1985 arcade original was only released in Japan, and the game wouldn’t come West until the 1989 release of the NES version. And, well, good luck to any mid-’80s 8-bit arcade-style game releasing in the same year that gave us Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, Phantasy Star II, SimCity, Populous, Mega Man II, Golden Axe and an early incarnation of Windows Solitaire.
Still, that doesn’t mean Dig Dug II should be consigned to the dustbin of history by any means. It’s fortunate, then, that we can try it out for ourselves on the Namco Museum Collection 2 cartridge for the Evercade retro gaming system! Let’s take a closer look.
In Dig Dug II, you once again take on the role of Hori Taizo — yes, that is his name, not “Dig Dug” as the Western NES manual erroneously refers to him — as he attempts to rid the world of Pookas and Fygars. As in the first game, your task is to clear each self-contained round of all the enemies while attempting to score as many points as possible — and, as before, the last few enemies on a stage will attempt to run away from our hero rather than provide him with delicious, delicious points.
The big difference in Dig Dug II is that rather than unfolding from a cross-section side view of a big pile of dirt, you instead now survey the action from a top-down perspective. You’re no longer underground, either; Taizo’s quest now unfolds across a series of islands floating in the sea.
The basic mechanics are fairly similar to the original. You can move in four directions and shoot out a hose in front of you, which, upon contact with an enemy, can be used to inflate them to death by tapping the fire button. You can also partially inflate an enemy to make them safe to pass if you’re trying to get somewhere else.
The big new mechanic is the fact that Taizo is now carrying a pneumatic drill around with him, and this can be used to drill cracks in the floor of the island starting from the conveniently placed holes that have been left around the place. Each hole can have a crack drilled up to one tile in a single direction, and if you can cause a crack to reach two edges of the island to isolate a complete section, that part will be “cut off” and sink into the sea, taking any enemies with it. The more enemies on the sinking landmass, the more points you’ll get.
This is, essentially, the replacement for the “falling rocks” mechanic in the original Dig Dug: it’s the means through which more experienced and skilled players distinguish themselves from those who fight their way through using nothing but the basic inflation mechanics. It takes a bit of practice, too: positioning and the direction Taizo is facing is very important when using the drill, and this is something that you’ll have to get a feel for over time.
You can theoretically get a long way through the game using nothing but the hose, but making good use of the drill is where the big points are — plus, much as dropping three rocks in the original game would cause a bonus-conferring piece of fruit to appear, so too in Dig Dug II will chopping off three hunks of land cause a similar bonus item to show up.
You have to play Dig Dug II quite strategically and carefully, because with each chunk of island lopped off, you’re reducing the available play area. In the original Dig Dug, it paid to dig your tunnels strategically, but careless digging didn’t actually mean you had less space to move. Here, however, there’s an almost puzzle-like element to the 72 levels: can you quickly determine from the initial setup where the best places to drill will be in order to quickly take out the groups of enemies? And can you strategically place cracks to “trap” enemies in place until you’re good and ready to send them plummeting into the watery depths?
If all this sounds like it might be quite challenging, you’d be absolutely right. Dig Dug II is quite a difficult game, and it gets even tougher pretty quickly. It’s one of those games where you know mistakes are usually your fault, though; the basic mechanics don’t change at all across the levels, so it’s all about how you make use of them coupled with your skill at avoiding the enemies. You need to quickly learn when it’s a good idea to take risks and when it’s best to play it safe — as well as mastering the drilling mechanics, as it can be easy to forget that it’s always the smallest chunk that falls into the ocean when you’re working with larger landmasses.
The game is friendly to those who want to progress, though; there’s a continue system that allows you to start a new game at any stage up to the one you’ve previously managed to reach, and when coupled with the Evercade’s save state system this essentially means you can save your progress and attempt to make it through all 72 stages over the long term rather than having to start from the beginning every time. That said, starting from the beginning is the main way you’re going to get the best scores — and a bit more practice on the stages you’re more familiar with certainly never hurts!
Dig Dug II’s presentation is as you might expect for a game that originally came out in 1985. It’s colourful, simple and clear in that distinctly chunky “early Namco” style, and features some catchy little musical themes that accompany the action. It’s easy to see why it would have passed by unnoticed in 1989, however — gaming at that time had mostly considered itself to have “moved on” from this type of experience, particularly as the 16-bit platforms were starting to assert their dominance at this point, too.
Nowadays, though? We can look back on this game, enjoy it on its own merits and realise that a lot of us who were around Back In The Day missed out on a game that could have been an all-time Namco classic if it had been widely released a bit earlier in its life. This sort of thing is why gaming preservation is important — and why platforms like the Evercade have an important role to play in resurrecting these lesser-known titles as much as the 8- and 16-bit games everyone knows very well by this point.
Tips and Tricks
- After a Game Over, when you start a new game you can select any of the stages up until the last one you reached to pick up from.
- It takes four pumps to defeat an enemy. Using fewer pumps keeps the enemy on screen but allows you to safely pass them.
- Cut off three chunks of land to make a fruit or vegetable appear. Collect it for bonus points.
- Enemies can’t pass through cracks except when in ghostly form; use this knowledge to create “roads” to guide them where you want them.
- The smallest piece of land always falls into the ocean when you complete a crack. Lure enemies onto it, then cut!
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