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- Dig Dug -




Dig Dug by Jon
Game:Dig DugCompany:Atari/Namco

ANYWHERE, USA - Smurf-like man armed with a tire pump burrowed a series of underground tunnels, gathered fruits and vegetables, dropped rocks down chasms, and over-inflated Pookas & Fygars until they burst today. Police are still on the lookout for the pump-wielding suspect.

That's pretty much what a press release about Dig Dug would read, and it doesn't make much sense does it? And that's the beauty of classic arcade games; they didn't have to make sense to be great. Think about it -- from a yellow head eating dots & avoiding ghosts to the plumber jumping & smashing barrels to catch a gorilla -- some of the best classic games didn't have a coherent premise. All they needed to do was be fun, and Dig Dug is fun.
Dig Dug is one of those games that defies classification. I had a heckuva time picking a category for it for this review. It's not really a platformer, because there are no platforms. It's not a maze game, it's not a shooter, or a fighter, or an adventure -- it's just an amazaingly creative game that, to my knowledge, was never really duplicated.
You're a little blue man with a white hat whose objective each level is to eliminate all of the baddies. The baddies in this case are the tomato-esque Pookas and the lizardy fire-breathing Fygars. You have two choices of how to dispatch these fellows; either drop a rock on them, or the more popular method, over-inflate them with your tire pump! Each monster can take about 4 pumps before it explodes, and if you abandon the air-pressure carnage before it pops, it will deflate and continue to chase you down.
This all takes place in a 2D underground cavern in which Dig Dug (or is his name just, "Dug?") can burrow tunnels and drop rocks suspended in the dirt.
That's about it, nothing complex. What makes the game so intriguing is all of the little tricks available to you by exploiting the rules of the gameplay mechanics. For example, your tire pump's hose won't shoot through dirt, only a short way down a pre-dug tunnel. However, it will poke just a very short distance through a thin wall of dirt and start to inflate a monster trapped in an unconnected tunnel. Cool, heh?
Here's another example. While you're completing the four pumps required to pop a baddie, you can't move, and therefore you're very vulnerable. However, because a semi-inflated baddie stays inflated for just a moment after you stop, you can take advantage of the "speed-pump" techinique. It's pretty simple, one pump, then take a step, another pump, take a step, repeat two more times, and you've not only dispatched a monster in about 1/3 the time, but you've also kept on the move. (As an aside, I just realized how twisted this paragraph would sound if it were read out of context.)
The sound is average or just above for the era, and the same goes for the graphics. But the application of sound and graphics are very well done. As you dig tunnels the edges of the dirt leave a sort of "torn" look as you go, making it feel more like digging through dirt and less like erasing some color. Music only plays when you're moving, and if you stop moving, there's a eerie silence, followed by a Pac-Man-ish siren that urges you to get moving again.
My only criticism of Dig-Dug might be that it's difficulty increases exponentially. Level one is nice & slow, and so is level two. Level three picks up the pace, and four starts to get tough. By the time you hit level ten (and earn a big red flower to mark your achievement), you're either an experienced player, or you're about to die. But because Dig-Dug is a game that deserves many replays, experience quickly compensates for the difficulty curve -- which in the final analysis is just right.
You've probably figured by now that I think pretty highly of Dig-Dug, and you're right. One of the characteristics I find most appealing in a game is creativity, and Dig-Dug has it in abundance.
Dig-Dug is one of the games that makes me grateful for emulation. It's the sort of game I want to preserve for my daughter to enjoy (when she's old enough to appreciate video games).
Play Control
Replay Value
1999 EmuViews