Saturday, April 27

Review: Dig Dog [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Growing up in arcades in the 80s I’m always eager to check out games that derive an obvious inspiration from classics of that era. Obviously based on its name Dig Dog is one such title, a riff on the classic Dig Dug whose emphasis was smartly digging through the ground to collect vegetables and dispatch enemies. While Dog has some things in common with that classic it very much charts its own path though, blending in some roguelike elements and simply having its own distinct style.


You’ll play as the title dog and your objective is always to find your bone within the level. The game offers two options, an Easy and a Hard mode, and since they’re somewhat polar opposites of one another they do make me wonder whether there should have been a Standard mode as well. Anyway, Easy mode really focuses on the digging and I suppose has a mild puzzle element to it but without any enemies at all it’s pretty dull. Hard mode goes in the completely opposite direction, giving you only 2 hearts to work with against an ample number of enemies who get progressively tougher to deal with through each stage.


The controls are pretty simple, though there’s a little more to them. While pushing in a direction will allow you to dig sideways or down double-tapping the jump will allow you to dig downwards more quickly and will give you a somewhat unwieldy sideways rush attack that will wipe out enemies and quite a bit of soil at once. While it would be hard to confirm, the distance this went never felt 100% consistent and while it is effective for helping you save yourself by dashing to a side when falling the need to jump first to trigger it could also be annoying at times in tight areas.


Once you get deep enough into a stage enough times you’ll unlock the ability to warp directly to them, skipping the easier stuff, but there are a few reasons that tends to go badly. First, your limited health isn’t replenished between levels, so you’re constantly vulnerable as it is. Second, that means you’ll have had less opportunity to collect coins or accumulate power-ups that you can purchase with said coins. Now, a pretty big problem I had with the power-ups is that they’re not given more than a brief explanation and it’s outright unclear what some of them do even once you have them. Throw in your dog’s limited life and honestly the power-ups sadly don’t often get much of an opportunity to contribute to things.


While there are things I like about Dig Dog it also makes itself a bit tough to love with its all or nothing skill choices. Easy mode is just sort of there and uninteresting while Hard just feels super stacked against you, not allowing you to get comfortable and feel like you’ve got things under control. Just an extra heart, your health replenishing between levels, or some refinement in the controls to make them feel a bit less brute force, perhaps in a new mode so that hard can remain as is, would help. There’s fun to be had here, it just feels designed with the intent to make it hard for you find easily through some key design decisions.

Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • Offers up some classic arcade feels mixed with modern sensibilities
  • A fair degree of unpredictability with its roguelike elements

Cons:
  • The two offered difficulty levels are polar opposites, begging the question of why there’s can’t be a third more moderate setting somewhere in between
  • Needing to jump first to trigger the dash and the fact it feels a bit inconsistent and out of control
  • No good explanation of some of the power-ups that I wasn’t able to even figure out the use of while playing with them