If you’re looking for nostalgia, go play the classics.
Growing up, I played a lot of Dig Dug II: Trouble in Paradise for the NES. I also played a fair amount of the original Dig Dug, but not as much. Dig Dug Digging Strike plays as some sort of twisted combination of those two games.
A series of islands has been invaded by various monsters and it’s up to you to play exterminator. The top screen of the DS shows an overhead view of the island, while the lower screen displays an internal cross section of the island. For whatever reason, these islands have large stakes in the ground. These stakes are the key to removing the monsters. By entering holes in the ground up top, you can go below and dig out the area underneath the stakes to drive them deeper. Driving the stakes all the way into the ground will crack the island (similar to using the jackhammer in Dig Dug II), and if you manage to crack off an entire section of the island it will sink into the ocean. Unlike Dig Dug, the ultimate goal of this game isn’t to kill off all the monsters, but rather to sink off a portion of the island that contains the large monster. You’ll also have to make sure you’re not on the sinking portion, otherwise it’ll be game over. If you sink off all the portions of the island possible without taking out the big monster, you’ll have to restart the stage, adding another element of strategy to the game.
While underground, gameplay is almost exactly like classic Dig Dug. It’s set on a 2D field and looks identical to the original. Smaller monsters are wandering all over the place. You’ll have to deal with them while simultaneously clearing out ground below the stakes. They’re initially trapped in small sections of the level, but can be freed if you open their section up. They can also go invisible and move through solid areas of the map, reforming in open spots. To aid you in your mission is an air pump. You can shoot out a hose and attach it to a monster to inflate and blow it up, just like classic Dig Dug. There are also various power-ups to help you out, making it easier to take out the monsters. There are even some power-ups that let you fly over the island Galaga style, shooting downwards or dropping bombs on the baddies. Most of the action takes place underground, and you’ll only go above to move between digging holes or fly over the island to shoot down enemies.
So, with all this classic gameplay, the obvious assumption is that Dig Dug DS is an old-school gamer’s dream come true. That, however, is not the case. Instead, it serves only to remind you of the good times you had with the classic Dig Dug games, and make you wish you were playing those instead. The controls are marred with inaccuracy. Precise movement, which should be very easy based on the simple gameplay mechanics, is amazingly frustrating. Changing direction is an exercise in frustration. You can only move horizontally or vertically in certain areas of the map. Imagine the level is divided into rows and columns. You can only move while inside a row or column. However, while moving forward or backward you can stop in the small areas of the map that are between the rows and columns. If you try to turn while in these areas, you will instead keep moving forward until you reach the next row or column. For example, let’s say you are moving across the map from left to right and want to turn up. When you press up to turn, there is a good chance you’ll be doing it while in one of the tiny gaps. So, instead of instantly turning up you will keep moving forward until you are completely in the next column, at which point you will automatically turn and start moving up. This problem, which also exists in the original Dig Dug (most likely due to hardware limitations) spoils the game. It doesn’t seem to be as big of a problem in the original, probably due to the fact that there is less going on without another screen and a ton of new gameplay mechanics, but it’s bothersome nonetheless. It’s understandable that Namco wants to capture as much of the original game as they can, but it seems unreasonable to keep broken gameplay mechanics for the sake of nostalgia.
It’s a real shame that this classic game keeps too true to its roots. If the movement problem were fixed, which is most likely very possible, Dig Dug Digging Strike would probably be a lot of fun. As it stands though, the fun has been sucked out of the game, and instead it is very frustrating to play. Also, while Dig Dug is replicated (too) flawlessly, Dig Dug II’s island-dropping mechanic has been co-opted and mixed into the original Dig Dug’s gameplay. As a result, it shares little in common with, and is far less fun than its second progenitor. In short, if you’re looking to play classic Dig Dug or Dig Dug II, you’d be better off playing the originals on their own.