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Dig Dug - The Atari Times

Dig Dug

A great port of an arcade classic
by Ethan C. Nobles

December 19, 2005
Any fan of the Atari 2600 knows one simple truth about arcade ports for the system - the graphics are never as good as the original, but it is possible to preserve the gameplay very well. The same is true of Dig Dug, a game published by Namco in 1982. This is one of the better arcade translations you'll find for the 2600, in fact - a big deal considering how many rotten ports exist for the old Atari.

The premise of Dig Dug is quite simple. Of course, this is a "maze chase" game influenced by Pac-Man, but enough differences were packed in to turn this into a truly unique game. The game's namesake - Dig Dug - is an underground miner equipped with nothing but a "jet-powered shovel" (or, so the instruction manual states) and an air hose attached to a pump. The air hose, of course, is Dug Dug's weapon - he uses it to explode fire-breathing Frygars and balloon-like Pookas. Dig Dug's enemies can be destroyed if our hero manages to dig under a boulder and drop it on the baddies.

And, what's an arcade game without points? Points are scored for each shovel of dirt dug (there are various strata - the deeper Dig Dug tunnels, the more points he scores). Points are scored for blowing up enemies or dropping rocks on them. And, whenever at least two boulders are dislodged, a fruit or vegetable will appear, and those things can be worth quite a number of points if Dig Dug manages to snag one before it disappears.

The thing which makes Dig Dug a truly intriguing game is the fact some subtle strategy is involved. For example, Pooka and Frygars can turn into ghosts and chase Dig Dug, so eliminating enemies early to keep them from ganging up on our hero is important. Furthermore, big points are scored for dropping boulders on enemies, so it's worth the effort to lure them in position to be destroyed. Also, the last enemy on the screen will try to escape after the rest have been eliminated, so chasing him down and giving him the ol' air hose is a good idea.

Fortunately, virtually all of the elements which made Dig Dug an arcade hit were preserved well in the game. There is, however, a major difference in the game speed. Dig Dug moves slower on the 2600 than he did in the arcade. And, he moves much slower than he did in the Dig Dug port for the 7800 (which, by the way, is a superior game and one of the best available for the system).

The graphics, as one might suspect, aren't exactly great. Regardless, they're pretty good for the 2600. There's a bit of aggravating screen flicker involved, and the "dirt" looks more like horizontal lines than anything else. Dig Dug is rendered in one color, as are the enemies. The Frygar's flame is one color, too - a far cry from the well-animated fire in the arcades and on the 7800. The rocks look like squares and the vegetables flicker like crazy. Still, the game looks pretty clean and the game might not look exactly like the arcade version of Dig Dug, but it's certainly impressive for the 2600.

The sound is very good, too. The music from the arcade game was preserved well and there are sound effects to warn when monsters are about to attack and such like. Considering the sparse sound effects featured in most 2600 titles, this one is a welcome change of pace.

The control is pretty good, too. There's nothing that wrecks a good arcade games like sloppy control, and that's not an issue here. Sure, Dig Dug moves slower than I'd like, but at least it's not too much of a challenge to point him in the right direction and pump enemies full of air.

All in all, this is a very solid title for the 2600. Dig Dug was an absolute hoot in the arcades, and this port retains the all-important gameplay of the classic very well. It's fairly common, too, so grab a copy.

This is one of the few 2600 games with a title screen.
There it is, in all it's glory. Just don't drop any rocks on your own head.
Dig Dug
System: 2600
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: 85%
Sound & Music Score: 90%
Gameplay Score: 95%
Control Score: 85%

Final Score: 95%

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