After teaming up with Panic Button to release fun multiplayer blaster Astro Duel Deluxe, developer Rusty Moyher used a more unconventional method to conjure up his latest project, Dig Dog. Using only his voice and a reflective sticker on a baseball cap to both code his game and craft the visuals, this action roguelike platformer is the result of a keen programmer unwilling to give up on his passion after suffering from severe repetitive strain injury in his hands. This led Moyher to somewhat invent a type of verbal coding language to make Dig Dog what it is today. To find out a little more on his determination on getting a little pixelated dog to dig, be sure to check out his personal vlog here. Otherwise, now that we have the backstory out of the way, let’s talk about whether it’s actually worth picking up.
Dig Dog is a very simple game with an equally simple premise. You play the role of a pooch and must dig your way to find a bone. Of course, there is a bit more to it than that if you consider the nasty critters trying to constantly kill you all the time, along with sneaky traps hidden in the dirt. But when it really boils down to it, that’s pretty much the dog’s dinner of what to expect. Yet, Pac-Man was also a simple game with a simple premise and one that is still incredibly addictive today as it ever was when it released back in 1980. That’s not to say that Dig Dog is nearly as good or as timeless as the old pill popper, but, for what it’s worth, this game still happens to be an addictive fun little time waster for the price of a coffee at a greasy spoon cafe.
It holds a charming sound and visual style that reflects the old Atari 2600 with extra horsepower. The controls are just as basic with only one jump button to account for as well as a cute gimmicky “woof” action. Holding your desired direction will allow the curious little doggo to burrow through soil to reach treasure. Spamming the jump button on a downward dig will speed up the burrowing process, while combining jump with a lateral stick input when airborne will execute a killer dash attack as the dog’s only form of aggression – outside traditionally diving on top of the enemy’s head. When mixing all the tools together, there’s certainly the challenge of coordination. However, finding the space between two extreme difficulty settings is where Dig Dog can struggle to find its balance.
This is because your choice of challenge has no middle ground. You’re either embarking on an easy peasy ride or a very tough, often slightly unbalanced challenge. The only two options available are the incredibly easy and endless Free Dig mode or the more unforgiving Bone Hunt. Free Dig did happen to entertain my five-year-old daughter for a good while as its lack of challenge gives the young’uns a fighting chance. It will definitely come across far too easy for most people though, especially considering that my daughter hit stage 50 without even breaking a sweat.
The much harder Bone Hunt mode is where I spent most of my time with Dig Dog. The main motive here is to have one shot at beating all the stages until they loop back to the game’s starting point. With only one warning hit before the pixel pooch is sent packing to the pet cemetery, learning how to guide the dog to its destination requires the player to become well versed with the gameplay mechanics. If you do manage to beat all the levels to return to the beginning without losing a life or warping back to a destination, you will get the bragging privilege of being placed onto the online leaderboard. As all the stages are randomly generated, memorising each stage for a legitimate speedrun isn’t likely. Survival can also somewhat be determined by getting a good hand of stages during a run, as there are times when you are swamped by a zombie horde of multiple foes faster than you can bark at the postman.
The randomly generated levels can, in theory, bring a bit of diversity to the level design. At first glance, this does look to be the case for Dig Dog. However, it doesn’t take long until I began to sense everything came across a bit too soulless and artificial. Besides the various filters to separate each stage theme and the odd new enemy and prop introduced, the structure of the environments themselves never seem to have any personality or thought put into them. It would have been great to have seen at least a handful of handcrafted levels with a dedicated puzzle element tied to them. Instead, the randomization just comes across a bit too, well… randomized.
This lead to the main problem that I had, which was actually finding a shop generated on a stage to upgrade my dog during a run. As well as the bone that you’re seeking, coins and rare health pickups can be found within the dirt and from certain enemies. As you may have gathered, coins can be spent on temporary upgrades, but unfortunately, a shop is usually never anywhere to be found when packed with a wealthy wallet. What makes matters worse, is that when you do lose all your hard earned coins when you die, you’re guaranteed to see a shop respawn soon after you restart a run. This could be seen as sod’s law, but it happened so often I just simply began to ignore the concept of collecting coins to spend all together.
What I did like was discovering hidden touches to the gameplay with mild experimentation. The game doesn’t really explain how the mechanics work, so just trying stuff out that felt right did lead to discovering one or two new techniques. For example, pressing jump at the moment of landing on an enemy will cause a slightly wider blast attack which can come in handy when destroying multiple baddies. Another example is the ability to loot shops by overthrowing the shopkeeper, although don’t expect to run away like a giddy mutt without consequence. It’s the little things like these that show Dig Dog’s potential. Although I couldn’t help but feel that if the stages weren’t so heavily randomized, there would be more possibilities for much better level design with a more fulfilling sense of achievement.
Considering the nature of the game’s development process and incredibly cheap price point, Dig Dog is definitely worth a look into. For £2.99 ($3.99), it’s an easy game outside Downwell to throw some spare Gold Points earned through the My Nintendo reward scheme. It’s far from perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but for what it is there’s definitely plenty of addictive gameplay here if your willing to put the effort in.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Wild Rooster