Version tested: Xbox 360
And so the Xbox Live Arcade classic arcade bandwagon rolls on this week with the release of yet another cheap and cheerful Namco port. Cheap, in that it's 400 points, and cheerful in its ability to make us feel happy with its goofy tune and unfettered simplicity 24 years on from release.
Released during that golden arcade age of Donkey Kong, Ms Pac-Man, Galaga and Frogger, Dig Dug was undoubtedly one of the most popular games of that cherished era, and it's no great surprise to see it wheeled out once again to capitalise on any remaining nostalgics who haven't already picked it up on any number of retro compilations over the past decade or so.
Weary cynicism aside, it's also one of a select band of ancient relics that seems to defy the passing of time, feeling every bit as addictive, challenging and playable now as it did back then. This isn't the gaming equivalent of reviewing Deely Boppers or Leg Warmers.
In case you're too young to have come across this retro staple, Dig Dug's a remarkably straightforward game that takes all of 10 seconds to pick up - much like every game of its time. Set on a single screen, the concept for each subterranean stage is to basically blow up the fire-breathing Fygars and the goggle-eyed Pookas that inhabit this underground lair. Armed with a pump, you move around the soil in one of four direction trying not to get snagged by either of your feisty foe, while waiting for a suitable opportunity to get close enough to pump them up four times until they burst.
But sometimes you might rather just pump them up a little and then sneak past them in order to lure them to a nearby rock so that you can squish them and gain far more points in the process. Drop two rocks (on any level at any time) and a reward of some kind appears in the middle (be it a carrot, watermelon or even a Galaxian ship), allowing you to rack up your score even more.
Armed with just three lives (plus any you gain from meeting various points targets) the chances are you won't last too long on Dig Dug. You'll easily blast through the first handful of stages and eventually get a little overwhelmed by how quickly the Fygars and Pookas start moving towards you. Given that they start to move much quicker than you can, it becomes a bit of a struggle to weave your way around before you've got a whole bunch on your tail, and others coming at you from all sides. But it's short, sharp, addictive fun, and yet again, benefits hugely from the online Leaderboard, allowing you to prove yourself against any retrophiles out there.
On the downside, the Xbox 360 pad is a wretched means of controlling Dig Dug. As with other four directional games (like Pac-Man, say) the analogue stick or d-pad just doesn't cut it when you're trying to make sharp, precise turns under pressure. You'll swear blind you've pressed up and yet it'll go left straight to your doom, and once the game starts asking you questions, you'll repeatedly suffer at the hands of the controller. A bad workman may blame his tools (frequently), but, seriously, this is another example of a game that demands an old-fashioned four-way joystick to get the most out of this otherwise flawless port.
In terms of other trivial embellishments, as you'll know by now, Namco Bandai don't really believe in messing around trying to tart up their back catalogue releases (unlike Konami, who routinely throw in reskins that everyone hates). And in case you were wondering, no, the sound hasn't been messed with either. Bless.
Inevitably, the achievements list piqued our attention, but they're all a bit Walter The Softy, to be honest. Thanks to the dubious decision to let you start at the last level you died on, you can easily rack up practically all the achievements by working your way through the game until you've collected all the various goodies that emerge every time you drop two rocks. There's actually only one achievement worth the name, and that's digging out an entire level, which is a phenomenal task.
And so with nothing else to report, no extra two-player mode, no Live multiplayer creations and the most basic front end possible, Dig Dug arrives on Live pure and unaltered. As with many of gaming's most treasured old classics, it's not something you can play for too long before the retro novelty starts to wear thin. The coin-gobbling design exists to kill you off as quickly as possible, and with such a repetitive design you've soon seen all there is to see. But that said, it's a coffee break fix to remind yourself of a lost era of gaming innocence and comes for the price of a large drink in Starbucks. We still dig it.
6 / 10