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Dig Dug (NES) artwork

Dig Dug (NES) review

"The player character of Dig Dug married (and later divorced) the player character of Baraduke/Alien Sector and their son is the main character of Mr. Driller. The Dig Dug mythos is rich enough without even looking at the UGSF craziness."

Dig Dug is a perfect example of simplicity done right.

After striking gold with Pac-Man, Namco tried to recapture the magic by experimenting with mazes in other games. Dig Dug is the most memorable of these experiments. Rather than wandering around a pre-built maze, Dig Dug tasks the player with building his own. Hero Taizo Hori (often known simply as Dig Dug) begins each stage by burrowing down into the earth. From there, he can dig in any of the four cardinal directions, clearing dirt as he moves. Moving through dirt is slightly slower than moving through empty space, but every square of dirt you clear will earn you a few points.

The object of each stage is to defeat all of the enemies on screen. There are two types of enemies: Pookas, who will kill you if they touch you, and Fygars, who can breathe fire a couple of spaces to their left or right. Enemies start in isolated underground caves, but possess the ability to float through solid dirt, and they'll put such skills to use after being trapped for a certain amount of time. There are two ways to defeat enemies, and the easiest of those is to pump foes full of air until they pop (it's less horrifying than it sounds). Taizo is armed with an air pump attached to a hose. He can fire the hose a couple of spaces ahead of himself and pump an enemy full of air by mashing or holding the attack button. If Taizo moves, the hose will detach, but that can be more helpful than you might assume. Enemies inflate one “level” as soon as you hit them. By moving in a direction and mashing the attack button, Taizo can defeat enemies more quickly this way than by standing still and pumping. Partially-inflated enemies are also harmless, meaning you can pump one a couple of times and walk right through him if you're in a tight spot.

The more difficult (but more rewarding) way to beat baddies is to crush them under falling rocks. Each stage has several easily visible boulders buried in certain spots. If you dig an empty space underneath them, those heavy objects will fall and smoosh anything they hit on the way down. If you're not careful, Taizo himself can be a victim of a falling rock, but playing it smart can cause the rock to work for you. If you can maneuver one or more enemies beneath a rock (usually by digging a long, straight, vertical tunnel) and unleash a boulder's rocky power, it can crush several enemies at a time for a nice point bonus. Dropping two rocks in a single level will cause a vegetable to appear at the level's starting point, which can also be collected for points.

That's about all there is to playing Dig Dug. It may not sound like much, but the game is considered a classic for good reason. Digging through the dirt to create your own mazes to manipulate or ambush enemies is satisfying. The music (which oddly only plays when Taizo is walking) is infectious and the levels are bright and colourful. The colours of the layers of dirt will also change between levels to lend a sense of progression, though there's not much visual difference between stages besides that. There are 20 stages in all, which is a respectable amount for a port of an 80's arcade game.

Speaking of ports, the NES version of Dig Dug is remarkably close to the arcade original. The colours of the soil aren't quite identical, but the stages still look good. The sprites have been perfectly recreated and the music sounds as close to the original version as it can on a NES sound chip. The biggest difference between the two versions is that the arcade version's screen was taller than a standard TV screen, so the NES version is a little bit squat vertically. This means the stages are a little more cramped than they originally were, but it doesn't affect the gameplay much. The only downside to this port is the occasional sprite flicker. Every now and then you may find yourself working from memory if too many enemies gather on one horizontal row, but this happens rarely enough and is easy enough to deal with that it’s not a big problem.

Dig Dug is a simple game that manages to stand tall next to classics like Pac-Man and Galaga, and is required playing for any retro game fan or anyone interested in the history of video games. This particular version is about as close to the original as an 80's home port of an arcade game was ever going to get. It remains a lot of fun to play here in the distant future world of 2013. You may be better off playing Dig Dug as part of one of Namco's many arcade game collections across so many consoles, but this version was great for its era and it holds up well today.

Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (July 09, 2013)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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