Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dig Dug Retrospective #2: Dig Dug II (ディグダグⅡ)

Image result for dig dug ii
Source: Namco Wiki

1985 brought sweeping changes to the video game scene; after the North American Video Game Crash, which crippled big names like Atari and Mattel, Nintendo would debut the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, and help restructure the industry, as well as jumpstart the creation of many beloved franchises, including The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. In Japan however, such a crash never occurred; the Family Computer, or Famicom if you will, was a gold mine for profit, with many companies jumping on board to increase profits. Namco was no exception; they made a huge sum of cash with their ports of their classic games, notably Xevious and The Tower of Druaga, and also debut their first original game for home consoles, Star Luster. In the arcade scene, Namco quietly slipped out a sequel to Dig Dug, one of their most popular arcade games of the era, aptly titled Dig Dug II.

The tropical island-themed followup was released on March 12, 1985 in Japan, and the game has come under question if it was ever released outside The Land of the Rising Sun; despite the claim of several websites, no flyers or promotional material have been leaked onto the internet, and is unknown who distributed the game, as Atari was under financial peril during the time and Midway seemingly cut ties with Namco in the mid 80s. The game wasn’t nearly as popular as the original, and only showed up on a few home consoles, mainly in Japan, although the Famicom version was released by Bandai overseas for the NES in 1989, although the original wasn’t for some inexplicable reason. A Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable version were also released, part of Namco Museum DS and Namco Museum Battle Collection respectively, as well as a 2009 Wii Virtual Console release.
Image result for dig dug ii mame
Source: MAME

It is easy to see why the sequel never lived up to the success and popularity as the first one, as the first game’s digging mechanics are practically stripped away in favor of an overhead view on a tropical island. Dig Dug, renamed to Taizo Hori starting with this release, still keeps his trusty bike pump and can still inflate enemies until they pop. The main feature to the game is the jackhammer, which Dig Dug can use to drill along fault lines, marked by small holes and cracks in the ground. Once the fault lines align with each other and touch the edge of the island, that entire section will crumble into pieces and sink into the ocean, which can take out any Pookas or Fygars that happen to still be on it. This adds a new layer of strategy to the game, as players can easily wipe away hordes of enemies in a snap. Don’t get carried away with this however, as Taizo himself can fall of should he be standing on the edge of a crumbling island.

Vegetables reappear as well, making appearances on the island should the player crumble four sections of the island of any size. Much of the items have been changed, including some corn from Super Pac-Man and the tropical drink from Pac-Man Plus, which is interesting as it was Namco’s American distributor, Midway, who created the game. The Famicom and NES versions are slightly different, in that some stages feature new music tracks or take place at night time, indicated by the black color of the ocean. These versions also add fish that jump out of the water at certain intervals, which Taizo can shoot his pump at for bonus points.

Dig Dug II is not as memorable as the first game as most of the mechanics that made its predecessor so great were completely removed, which can easily turn off new players. This doesn’t make it a bad game, however, as it still manages to be an enjoyable game, even if it isn’t as well known or received as the original. A note to point out is that there are two versions of the game developed for arcades; the “old version” is much harder as it features quite complex stage layouts and areas that are nothing more than dead ends, while the “new version” is much easier and is more accessible for higher point opportunities. Nearly all ports of the game use the new version, although the PSP and NDS versions of the game include both versions if you prefer one over the other.
Image result for dig dug ii
Source: Gaming Alexandria

Despite being a rather obscure entry in the series as well as Namco’s arcade output, Dig Dug II has managed to creep its way onto various Namco Museum collections, including the previously mentioned Namco Museum Battle Collection and Namco Museum DS (replacing the original game, no less), as well as Namco Museum Megamix for the Nintendo Wii. Additionally, a Wii Virtual Console version was released exclusively in 2009 along with a plethora of other Namco games, however this particular version remained exclusive to Japan. Lucky bastards.

Join me next time as we travel forward in time to the mid 1990s, with Dig Dug being brought out of its subterranean slumber.

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