Why not Dig Dug?
Dig Dug, aka Taizo Hori aka The Hero of the Dig Dug Incident, is… the… hero of Dig Dug. Damn, kind of wrote myself into a wall there. But that wouldn’t be a problem for Taizo (we’ll stick to his “real” name to distinguish the man from the game), whose drilling skills would take him straight through any wall, literary or otherwise. Taizo was the lone star of the original Dig Dug and Dig Dug 2, but he later burrowed himself into the Mr. Driller series as the father of the titular Mr. Driller, Susumu Hori. And since Dig Dug was released in 1982, Taizo is one of Namco’s oldest mascots.
And he gets no respect.
If it seems like I mention Smash Bros. in a lot of articles, it’s because I believe that series to be, essentially, the lavish awards show of Nintendo’s mascots. In the same way a movie critic may discuss last year’s best picture, I look at the main and supporting cast of Smash Bros. Fire Emblem is pretty popular this console cycle, let’s reward that series with seventeen new characters. Punch-Out!!! was a success… you’re in, Little Mac! Project Rainfall? Okay, let’s toss in a Shulk. Is it any coincidence that the principle “currency” in the Smash Bros. universe appears to be trophies? Being featured in Smash Bros., in almost any fashion, is an achievement on par with being at the top of your field… even if “you” are just a koopa spawn.
And, to be clear, I’m claiming Smash Bros. is for the best of the best of video game mascot characters, which is something completely different from just plain video games. There’s a fine line between “this franchise/character is really popular” and “this character only appears in good games”. Sorry, I just do not care for Wii Fit, as it called my mama fat (on Christmas!), and thus must be a bad game.
As we all know (because the game has been out for a while), Super Smash Bros. 4 opened the floodgates so a number of other video game companies could ooze on in. Along with Capcom and Sega, we also saw Namco get a slot on the roster, and include one of the most iconic characters in all of gaming history. Pac-Man, obviously, is a pretty big get, as he pretty much invented the concept of the video game mascot, and, well, you don’t see anybody fighting over Xevious watches. In a way, a battle between Cloud, Sonic, Pac-Man, and Mario is video games, and the mere fact that such a thing is possible is amazing for everyone involved.
But Pac-Man wasn’t the only piece of the Namco canon to make it into the Smash universe. Presumably thanks to their assistance in actually making the game, a number of Namco cameos appear all over the game. Pac-Man uses Mappy’s trampoline, Galaga ships are items, and a flag from Rally-X may grant a player an extra point. And in Smash Run, a mode that mostly involves exploring underground tunnels, we finally see a cameo from one of Namco’s oldest mascot games, Dig Dug. Here’s… pooka?
Now, honestly, I know it could be worse. Mappy, Namco character and the world’s seventh most popular cartoon rodent, has barely come out of his hole in the last three decades. Considering the average lifespan of a mouse is somewhere in the department of two years, a vermin walking that thin blue line is probably… retired by now. Dragon Buster’s Clovis, the inventor of the double jump, similarly has not seen the light of day in eons. And Dragon Spirit? May as well be a ghost. Taizo should be happy he got three games, a pile of rereleases, and a spin-off franchise. You don’t see anyone asking for the next game featuring Pac-Man’s son, after all.
I suppose I’m just bitter because I’ve always preferred Dig Dug’s gameplay over a number of other Namco arcade games. Pac-Man is a game where you’re always on the run, and, while you may temporarily gain the advantage over your pursuers, you know they’ll always come back, and it’s only a matter of time before the eater becomes the eaten. Galaga’s endless swarms of bugs is practically a chthonic nightmare, and Rally-X is another silly sports game. But Dig Dug? Taizo is a dedicated exterminator. He’s accomplishing something by clearing out pookas and fygars. Even if Taizo should fall (or have something fall on him), he has already reclaimed a number of areas, and his life (lives) shall not have been in vain. Or perhaps the most endearing thing is that when Taizo has defeated all but one enemy, the last remaining monster attempts to flee, creating the sensation that Taizo, digger extraordinaire, is not a mere hero, but an unstoppable, feared force of destruction. I am become Dig Dug.
And yes, Taizo (and those damn pookas) have cameoed in a number of Namco games over the years. I mean, he’s not completely forgotten, he’s just… well…
Taizo’s third adventure was Dig Dug: Digging Strike. It’s an innovative combination of Dig Dug and (the often-forgotten but pretty great) Dig Dug 2. It’s also a pretty clever application of DS technology. You’re Taizo, and there are giant monsters stomping around the overworld while human-sized monsters hang out underground. Your job is to flip between the surface and underground to destroy monsters, yes, but also drive giant stakes into the ground that will then sink chunks of island, hopefully drowning the giant monsters beneath the waves. It’s fun all around, and various power-ups and new level hazards (here comes the lava!) escalate as Taizo progresses throughout the island chain that is housing all these creatures. It’s basically Dig Dug vs. Godzilla, and winds up being one of the few games where I feel like the hero has a legitimate reason (him smart) for being able to defeat skyscraper sized opponents (see also that game with those, whaddyacallem, Colossi).
But the whole experience seems tarnished by the fact that this is the last anybody saw of Taizo in a starring role. Yes, we’ll keep getting Dig Dug rereleases until the end of time, but Dig Dug: Digging Strike… well, it’s not the best thing on the DS, or even somewhere in the Top 10, but it’s still a very fun game. Dig Dug’s gameplay is fairly unique (hey, there’s no jump button in all three FGC games this week), and we literally haven’t seen any new spins on this formula in the last, let’s see here… eleven years! There are almost teenagers out there who have never known a new Dig Dug game! Won’t someone please think of the children?!
So, hey, Namco? I know you’re probably working on the next Tekken, Soul Calibur, or Ridge Racer, but maybe take a moment, get together a little team, and think about Taizo Hori. He’s been digging and dugging for decades now, and it’s time he got his due.
Or at least another damn game.
FGC #103 Dig Dug: Digging Strike
- System: Nintendo DS. Would be just perfect for a 3DS or WiiU version, too! But nope.
- Number of players: One. No, wait, I think there’s multiplayer, but… yes, it appears you need to find another human being that owns this game, and I kinda forgot I had my copy, so the odds are low.
- Drill Again: And we haven’t seen a new Mr. Driller game for a while, either. Are puzzle games just done in the face of cell phone games eating up that market? Can we just get some new Mr. Driller mobile games, then? Actually “new”, not just rereleases.
- Pooka pooka: I want to say that the humble pooka is the first creature in a video game that I ever “killed”. I felt momentarily ashamed of popping the creature, but then a fygar toasted my Taizo, and I’ve been out for revenge ever since. Needless to say, I rather enjoy dragging Pit into the killing fields to exterminate them in Super Smash Bros.
- Love at first sight: Jill Dozer and Taizo should hang out. Nah, that’s too may-december. Jill and Taizo should hang out, but then he introduces her to Susumu. There. Yes, let’s get the fanfic ball rolling.
- Did you know? The star of Mr. Driller is Taizo’s son, so, of course, there has to be a mother driller floating around somewhere. In this case, Mr. Driller’s mom is Toby “Kissy” Masuyo, a galactic marine and the star of Baraduke. For reasons that are completely unclear, Taizo and Toby are divorced. Toby appears in the bonus ending of this game, jealous and annoyed at her former lover. All I want to do is meet the Namco staffer that decided that one its most iconic heroes should be bitter and divorced. Pac-Man, as of this writing, is still happily married.
- Would I play again: I really like this game… but it’s also a DS game, which means it has to compete with not only the luminaries of the DS library, but also everything in the 3DS library, too. So, I’m a hypocrite, it’s unlikely I’ll ever see these specific Dig Dug adventures ever again.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Prince of Persia for the Xbox 360! That would be the 2008 one that is completely divorced from The Sands of Time… and, apparently, destroyed the franchise. Oh boy. Please look forward to it!