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Ah, Dig Dug, I know Dig Dug. Have I ever actually dug anything in Dig Dug? I don't think I've ever played it. Perhaps a version of it, or a clone or spiritual successor somewhere, but the original Dig Dug passed me by, to the best of my recollection.
If I kept wanting to not be in space when I played arcade games, Dig Dug appears to be answering my pleas by heading in the opposite direction, underground (deep underground, near the Earth's core, where it's still warm), and how colourful it is too. Simple, but it does the job, doesn't it? Looks like something you'd find in a text book. I wonder what we'll learn from this classic...
We'll learn nothing from the Atari 2600 port, save for the fact that Dig Dug is sporting a rather large... pump... uhm, yeas.
The aim of the game is to dig down and around a bunch of enemies in order to clean them off the face of the Earth - or perhaps that should be out of the face of the Earth - by either dropping rocks on their heads or pumping them full of air until they explode. Violence is okay when it's directed towards Tomato people and Dragons...
In contrast to other titles at the arcade, Dig Dug allowed a change of pace and gave you time to plan your route around the underworld. Do you try to go for a rock, knowing that you could end up on the receiving end of it yourself, or do you put yourself into as safe a position as you can in order to pump the enemy full of air?
Points are on offer and points mean high scores, but be too slow to decide and it wouldn't matter, as the enemies would turn into ghostly figures and float through the ground to a different place, usually where you don't want them to be.
Fumbling around in the Atari 2600 port wasn't fun, even knowing what I had to do, so I went and played on the 5200.
It was easier on the eyes but not on the ears. The music was less of a jingle and more of a screech here, not good for lengthy gameplay sessions. We need more numbers! 7800 of them!
Finally a version I can get to grips with. Dig Dug sports his full blue and white attire, the Pookas and the Fygars look more like themselves (if that's even a thing), and the sounds aren't distracting me in the slightest. I can finally play Dig Dug without thinking too much.
Except I should be thinking a bit more than I do. I often find myself in a position to pump up and pop an enemy by dumb luck, after it just walks towards me. It means that when the inevitable break for the surface happens, I'm usually lost in my own tunnels wondering just what I should be doing.
But it's satisfying because it's different. I'm not shooting missiles towards a lump of exotic space metal, I'm wobbling out an air hose that sticks into an already somewhat cute looking enemy, then proceeding to inflate them over a few seconds, their eyes bulging, their bodies swelling, until pop, a few hundred points for me.
And it's me doing all the work, all that frankly unnecessary violence. Fail to keep pressing the button and they'll slowly deflate before returning to normal - though with a much stronger justification for their grudge against you. It can be handy in some circumstances, I'd imagine, though I didn't find myself in any - and let's face it, I would have stumbled into another problem right away.
Dig Dug is, like many a game we've already seen, a case of giving the player the simplest of tasks, two ways to get it done, and hundreds of levels of space for their skills to develop. Simple games work wonders; easy to pick up, difficult to master, enough fun to keep you digging for more.
Work out the best strategy for dropping a rock on somethings head only to see it move out of the way and avoid all harm? Damn, maybe next time. Come face to face with a Fygar, go to pump it full of air, only to see it breathe fire straight into your face? Better remember that for next time...
You lose a life, you learn a little, you try again. Have fun blowing up small animal looking things.
Though officially called Dig Dug in Dig Dug, Dig Dug's Dig Dug also goes by the name Taizo Hori, a pun on the Japanese phrase 'Horitai zo', or 'I want to dig'.
Dig Dug, developed by Namco, first released in 1982.
Versions played: Atari 2600, 1983, via emulation.
Atari 5200, 1983, via emulation.
Atari 7800, 1987, via emulation.