How Can I Play It?: Dig Dug & Mr. Driller
Curious to try some of the games discussed in this week's podcast? Here's how to find them.
We frequently field the same basic question after many episodes of Retronauts, especially overviews of interesting, niche franchises (as with yesterday's Mr. Driller episode!): Where on earth can I find these games to play them on contemporary systems? Rather than leave you alone to fend for yourself in a cold, uncaring world of platforms and reissues, we're introducing the "How Can I Play It?" series. Each week (or thereabouts), How Should I Play It? will present you with the best options for legitimately and legally playing the classic games we cover here at Retronauts, ideally on current platforms. We'll begin, naturally, with this week's podcast topics: Mr. Driller and Dig Dug.
The Dig Dug series kicked off 35 years ago, and Mr. Driller continued it about 16 years later. Altogether the two franchises (along with tangents like Baraduke and Star Trigon) account for more than a dozen unique releases across countless platforms. Here are my recommendations for the best way to get ahold of these games.
Nintendo 3DS family
We'll begin with 3DS (and 2DS). Although Namco Bandai never released a 3DS-specific Driller game, the handheld's backward-compatibility with DS and DSi software gives it the widest array of games relevant to this topic (the company went all-in on the franchise during the DS era). Just remember to hold down Start or Select when launching a DS/DSiWare title on 3DS to activate true-pixel resolution!
- Mr. Driller: Drill Till You Drop (2010, DSiWare)
In my opinion, this is the single best Driller game ever localized into English. Why? Dristone mode, baby. This is the one English-language Driller to retain the puzzle-like Dristone adventure format, wherein oxygen ticks down not with time but rather as you perform actions. It's a more strategic take on Driller and can be incredibly addictive. As a DSiWare release, you can no longer purchase it on original hardware (the Gamespy-based DS network died a few years ago), but you can find it on 3DS eShop. If you get any one game on this list, make it this one.
- Dig Dug (1984, Virtual Console)
You can buy the NES port (well, technically, the Famicom port, since no one ever released the original Dig Dug as an NES cart) on all versions of Virtual Console. It's a very strong conversion of the arcade game.
- Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits (2005, DS)
Dig Dug: Digging Strike (2005, DS)
These two are definitely acquired tastes. Drill Spirits amounts to a stripped-down Drill Till You Drop, so only buy it if you can't get ahold of the DSiWare release. Meanwhile, Digging Strike is a weird hybrid of Dig Dug II, Dig Dug, and Mr. Driller. Not great, but definitely interesting.
- Namco Museum DS (2007, DS)
Namco Museum DS includes Dig Dug II. This compilation is kind of slumming it, but it was developed by the superstars at M2, so it's quite good for what it is (e.g. arcade games crammed painfully onto DS).
As with 3DS, Namco never brought any of these games specifically to Vita. They also didn't really do much with PSP! However, Vita's broad support for PS1 Classics releases is the key here — you can play quite a few relevant PS1 releases on Vita.
- Mr. Driller (2000, PS1 Classics)
The original Mr. Driller is as stripped-down as it gets, with only a single playable character and the basic arcade modes. That said, it's the baseline of the entire franchise, and as such it's still fun and addictive.
- Dig Dug/Namco Museum 3 (1996, PS1 Classics)
The original retrogame compilation series, Namco Museum's five volumes contain roughly two dozen greats altogether. Vol. 3 includes Dig Dug (not Vol. 1, as we misremembered on the podcast). These are admirable ports, although do keep in mind you're playing an arcade title reworked for PS1 emulated on PSP and interpreted on Vita. That's a lot of layers...
- Baraduke/Namco Museum 5 (1996, PS1 Classics)
The fifth volume of Namco Museum for PS1 included Baraduke, one of the few times it's ever been compiled. If you want to see what Mr. Driller's mom was all about, this is the way to do it.
- Dig Dug/Namco Museum Battle Collection (2005, PSP)
A slightly odd compilation, but ambitious in its own way. Battle Collection only compiled a handful of games, but it reworked most of them in an "Arrangement" mode featuring new graphics and multiplayer options. Among the original and arranged games, you'll find Dig Dug.
Challenge Mode: Mr. Driller G (2001, PS1 Classics)
Never released in any version in the U.S., Mr. Driller G is essentially the pinnacle of the Mr. Driller arcade experience with a ton of modes and the largest selection of playable characters. You'll need to trick your Vita into speaking to the Japanese or Asian PSN storefront to get ahold of this by creating a dummy account for that region, but it could be worth the trouble — Mr. Driller G is that good.
We're still waiting on Nintendo to tip its hand regarding Virtual Console (or whatever) for Switch, but individual publishers are stepping up where Nintendo won't.
- Dig Dug/Namco Museum (2017)
Later this week, Namco will be publishing a new Namco Museum collection that includes the arcade version of Dig Dug. That's worth noting for one big reason: The Switch version of Namco Museum features support for "tate" mode, allowing you to turn your Switch screen sideways to more faithfully recreate games that had vertical screens in the arcade... games like Dig Dug. Battle Collection for PSP also included that feature, but Switch lets you remove the JoyCons for a more comfortable experience. Assuming the programming quality is up to snuff, this could be the ideal way to re-experience the original Dig Dug. (The compilation also includes several other games we've covered on Retronauts, including Pac-Man, Rolling Thunder, and the first two Splatterhouses.)
As with 3DS and Vita, backward compatibility is the saving grace here. Sony and Nintendo's decision to drop backward compatibility features on their most recent consoles makes them horrible monsters who should feel bad about themselves; BC is a critical benefit to gaming, as this list more than proves.
- Dig Dug (Xbox 360, 2006)
It's the arcade game, on Xbox 360, emulated on Xbox One. Yep.
- Mr. Driller Online (Xbox 360, 2008)
The "online" part of this game was never up to snuff, and the chances you could find someone to play against in this niche arcade title nearly a decade after release are approximately zero. That's OK. Don't buy this for the online. But it because (1) it's the best way to play classic Mr. Driller on an HD system and (2) it contains lots of interesting game variants and challenge modes.
And, yes, another critical success for backward compatibility. Let's hear it for built-on preservationism.
- Dig Dug (1984, Virtual Console)
This is the same version that's available on 3DS.
- Dig Dug II (1988, Virtual Console)
Unlike on 3DS, however, Wii U Virtual Console also offers the game's oddball sequel. Dig Dug II is a strange one, but it's worth taking for a spin all the same.
- Mr. Driller 2 (2005, Virtual Console)
Namco bizarrely released this Japanese GBA launch title at the very end of the GBA's life in America. It was horribly dated by that point, yes, but nevertheless it's up for grabs on Wii U Virtual Console. It's not bad, but it doesn't offer much over the original Mr. Driller besides the ability to play as Anna.
- Mr. Driller W (WiiWare, 2009)
There wasn't anything particularly unique about this WiiWare iteration of Mr. Driller, but it is indeed playable through Wii U backward compatibility. With its upscaled standard-definition graphics, it's definitely a notch below Mr. Driller Online in terms of both visual appeal and breadth of content.
You can pick up several Dig Dug and Driller games on platforms like iPhone, though I don't recommend them. Besides the threat of obsolescence with every OS update, you also have to deal with the imprecision of touch controls... not really ideal for a fast, precise game like Mr. Driller. However...
- Star Trigon (iOS, 2008)
...assuming it works with the current phone ecosystem, iPhone is the only way to easily play Driller spin-off Star Trigon. Ho hum.
ULTIMATE CHALLENGE MODE
If you don't mind a little extra leg work, I strongly recommend picking up a copy of Mr. Driller: Drill Land as a GameCube import. You'll need a Japanese GameCube (or one that's been region-modded), a dedicated Japan-region memory card, and the ability to read Japanese or maybe just tough it out... but if you can jump through those hoops, Drill Land is the ultimate Driller experience. Consider it the graduate course once you've sampled the other games mentioned here.