Way back in 1982, Namco released Dig Dug in arcades everywhere. More than 20 years later, the game has truly stood the test of time; it is regarded as a bona fide classic. Were it not for Pac-Man, the hero of Dig Dug, Taizo Hori, would undoubtedly be the official mascot of Namco. Dig Dug: Digging Strike takes the basic concepts of the original arcade game and adds a few gameplay elements that, ultimately, don't fit together all that well. The game plays well enough, but anyone accustomed to the simplicity of Dig Dug might turn their nose up at this one.
Over the course of the game's 15 stages, you're tasked with ridding an island of its boss. Simple enough, as you're armed with your trusty digging tools and handy harpoon to take out any enemies in your path. The catch here is that you never fight the boss directly. By digging underground and creating holes under the pillars placed conveniently around each of the maps, your goal is to sink the big monsters into the water by breaking off the chunk of island that they are standing on. Throughout the course of each stage, you'll switch between traveling both above and below ground, taking out enemies, collecting power-ups and playing minigames based on other classic Namco arcade games.
One of the things that made the original Dig Dug games so great was their simplicity. With Digging Strike, though, the simple things are really only here as a reminder of what the original games were like. Sure, while you're underground you're using the harpoon to blow up enemies, but when you clear out the screen, the stage doesn't end. In many ways, the bad guys down below are merely there to slow you down from sending the boss creature into the drink. After getting used to the fact that the Dig Dug gameplay you might expect really only appears in the game in spirit, and after you've completed several levels, you realize that the concept gets old very quickly. While it certainly can be challenging to figure out exactly how you're going to make the bosses take a bath, Digging Strike does little to offer much more of substance. Aside from the collection elements of the game, Digging Strike also sports a thin wireless multiplayer mode for up to two players, where you and another spelunker race to gather 20 coins before the other.
Also scattered throughout the subterranean levels are a slew of items to pick up: parts to upgrade your weapons, pieces of ancient fossils, and temporary power-ups. If you're brave enough to not whiz right through the story mode, there is a ton of stuff to collect, which does help add to the length of the game. In addition, two items you can find buried underground unlock brief minigames based on two other Namco games, Rally-X and Xevious. The twist here is that the gameplay takes place on the island you're currently on and helps you take care of the boss monster more quickly. They're fun to play, and they star Mr. Driller, another popular Namco character. If you're a fan of all things Namco, you'll probably find something to like in Digging Strike, especially during the wacky cutscenes before each level.
Given that this game appears on the Nintendo DS, one might expect some kind of interesting use of the stylus. Aside from tapping the screen at the menus and skipping past story sequences, this is the most tactile the game gets. While this is somewhat of a disappointment, the game does have a fun, cartoony look to the graphics, with colorful hand-drawn sprites for the subterranean levels, polygonal 3D for the parts of the game that take place above ground, and cute anime-style story sequences. It's nothing remarkable, exactly, but the visuals are ultimately servicable. Perhaps best of all is the inclusion of remixed takes on the classic Dig Dug music, which in and of its own is quite unique--in order to keep the music playing, you've got to keep moving.
When all is said and done, Dig Dug: Digging Strike isn't a terrible game, but it's not all that great, either. The nods to the Namco back catalog certainly add to the charm of the game, but it ends up playing awkwardly, and comes across as rather tossed together. If you're in the mood to collect every last item in the game and revel in the wacky story, you'll find some charm in the experience. If you came in looking for a throwback to the arcade days of old, you should probably look elsewhere.