Review by Retro
"Grave diggers wish their job was this fun!"
It's 11:40 p.m. on a Saturday night and I'm doing a quick update for one of the best arcade to console translations for the Atari 2600, Dig Dug. Having a tough final exam coming up in two days, I've decided not to spend time trying to think up a good intro like I usually do with new reviews and updates; a classic memory will have to do.
Back in its day, Dig Dug was a popular arcade game all over America. Myself, I hadn't ever even seen a Dig Dug machine in my life, at the time that I bought this game for Atari (I have gotten to play the arcade version of it since then, and it was excellent).
But what the hell? It looked fun and before I could even play it for the first time, I found out that it was a major hit with my two older brothers. All I ever bought with my own money back then was video games. They were used to me getting new ones very often, so they would always ask me when they'd come over or when I'd talk to them on the phone, ''Get any new video games?'' They called to ask me that famous question the exact moment I got home from purchasing Dig Dug for the Atari 2600. I had actually just finished buying four or five video games. In the middle of calling out my list, both of them interrupted me by yelling, ''YOU GOT DIG DUG!???''
It wouldn't take much playing time for me to see just why Dig Dug happened to be one of their absolute favorite games. Dig Dug, an underground miner, has a little problem on hand. Well, scratch that....he has a major problem! Deep underground, beneath several layers of dirt, there are big-headed orange creatures called Pookas that greatly resemble Q*bert without the long nose, and green fire-breathing dragons named Fygar. Whether these creatures are searching for worms or just enjoy the dark scenery of the subterranean world, Dig Dug doesn't care! He will use his jet-powered shovel and dig through as much dirt as he has to to get to these creatures and destroy them!
Along with this sparky shovel that can dig through dirt as fast as Dig Dug can walk, he is also equipped with a pump. When any Pooka or Fygar gets too close for comfort, you can simply press and hold down the joystick's button to pump them up with so much hot air that they literally explode like a balloon! At the start of each and every level, a few of these creatures will be moving around freely in either vertical or horizontal open spaces. You can be as brave as Robin Hood and go right for the kill and steal these foes' lives if you wish, but you'd better watch out. As sure as Dig Dug can move in any four directions through the dirt as he pleases, Pookas and Fygars can literally turn into a ghost and travel through the dirt, even through places that haven't been dug through yet, anytime they want.
While these enemies seem to have bricks tied to their feet during the first stage, they will become faster than a sprinter after a few levels, but you'll never get faster! The patterns of the dirt, or at least its open spaces, change every stage, and sometimes there are a few more enemies than you usually see. Nonetheless, the idea is always the same. Simply defeat every dragon and Pooka you see to progress to the next stage. Or, if you're feeling more like a lazy bum, just kill them all except for the last one. The last adversary in each stage will suddenly become a coward when he (or she....I don't want to check) notices that it's the only one left. It will quickly make its way to the top/left portion of the screen to try and escape before you can pump its guts full of air.
As Dig Dug digs out intricate tunnels underneath the earth's surface in this one-player game, he'll want to keep a hungry eye out for delicious vegetables that randomly appear in the center of the screen for not only a healthy snack, but bonus points as well. Finally, there are a few heavy ass rocks that look perfectly square in each level. Equip yourself with some good timing, and you could walk right under these boulders and make them fall on top of your ruthless enemies' noggins to give them a pounding migraine that is so harsh that it destroys them, sending them to heaven or hell, depending on what kind of monster they were.
Atari 2600 versions of popular arcade hits always tried to depict the originals that everybody loved. Perhaps the one way that Dig Dug isn't completely like its idol is its graphics. While you can look at them both and see a kin resemblance, it's easy to see that the arcade's were much better, as you'd expect. In this Atari 2600 translation, the rocks are just plain squares, and the pumping device was left out completely, save for the cord that you throw. The dragons look older and more wrinkly than they do in the arcade title. The Pookas looked like they were wearing some sort of space suit in the original, but they're just naked orange creatures in this one. However, for this to be an Atari 2600 title, the graphics aren't really that bad. There are some nice colors to be seen, and I love the way the enemies look while they're in their ghostly form.
Dig Dug's sounds deserve some limelight. Apart from the addictive gameplay, it's probably the game's best aspect. At the start of a level and at all times while shoveling through the multicolored soil, some cheerful sort of music will play from your television set. Many complain about the digging through dirt tune getting too repetitive since you hear it all the time, but I find it to simply add to the workman-like atmosphere of the gameplay. Another neat thing happens when you stop in place. You'll hear eerie background sounds that represent the enemies; it has a way of telling you that they're out to get you! Sound effects go hand in hand with the great music, whether it's a dragon snorting fire at you, or the sound of your pump inflating an unlucky moron.
Recreating something that had a good bit of success is a sure way to succeed. Dig Dug for the Atari 2600 did just that. It's just like its arcade role model in nearly every way. It plays just like it, sounds just like it, controls the same way, etc. Even with the somewhat underwhelming graphics, Dig Dug always proves to be extremely enjoyable, and I'd call it one of the most addictive games for the system. It's a shame that it seems to have been so overlooked by Atari fans. Don't be like the majority. Do like I did and dig up a shining gem. That's what you'll be doing when you purchase Dig Dug for the 2600.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 05/01/01, Updated 05/12/03
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