What is the soul of a videogame?
Today’s game is Dig Dug. What’s more, ROB has chosen the Atari 2600 version of Dig Dug. This makes a certain amount of sense, as this is the only “pure” version of Dig Dug in my collection. Why? Well, Dig Dug is probably a game that takes up a whole six bits of space, so practically every version of Dig Dug since 1985 has not been available as a “single” game, but part of some larger collection. And more’s the pity! Living compilation to compilation might be good for some of the most established games, like Pac-Man or Galaga, but it doesn’t do ol’ Dig Dug any favors. You’re going to play Dig Dug for five minutes, say “oh, this is where all those inflation fetishists got their start,” and then move on to the next game. When you’re playing Dig Dug on a compilation where you can finally find an answer to what the hell Pac & Pal is about, you’re going to skip right past the fygars.
Which is, unfortunately, a loss for anyone that enjoys the more complicated games of the “simple” arcade era. Dig Dug has a lot going on! Everyone is familiar with how you can pump up your opponents to popping proportions, but you’re also allowed the strategic kills through falling rocks. The OG Mr. Driller is drilling his way through the dirt, so he may as well use some dirt to his advantage! And, as demonstrated for anyone that ever stuck around to watch Dig Dug’s attract mode, there is more to pumping your opponents than meets the eye. Most consider the multiple action-button presses of sending a pooka to hell to be some manner of “number of hits” issue, but there’s strategy in blowing up these underground monsters. Any partially inflated adversary is immobile, and, more importantly, not a threat to Taizo Hori, so you’re welcome to walk (well, dig) right through ‘em. What does this mean? Well, you can partially inflate your prey, and then sneak along the edges to avoid the attacks of other rivals. Or fill up a few baddies, make sure they’re all deflating in a vertical line, and call down a rock to Burger Time them all into something resembling a pancake. Dig Dug has more options than you’d think, particularly for a game that features a scant four directions and one whole button.
He definitely puts some silly clown to shame.
But we’re not just talking about Dig Dug today, we’re talking about Dig Dug for the Atari 2600. This is not the first Atari port that has been covered on Gogglebob.com. We’ve seen the Kangaroo go from the arcade to your living room, but that was a situation where no one remembered the arcade version anyway, so who cares? We’ve seen Pac-Man make his way to the Atari, too, and that was an unmitigated disaster. And there was Mario Bros, which was probably the best anyone could ever expect of a Nintendo arcade game adapted to the 2600. But was it perfect? Absolutely not. The physics were just wrong (Mario doesn’t have any of his signature momentum in his movements), and the fireballs went from an occasional nuisance to an omnipresent threat. If you wanted a “kinda” Mario Bros experience, the Atari version was a fun time, but it was still a far cry from the subtle joys of the arcade original.
But Dig Dug for Atari 2600? Miraculously, in every way, this feels like Dig Dug.
And it’s easy to see why: everything is here. There may be only two monsters in Dig Dug, but they both showed up. They both function in the exact same way, and they both pop in the same satisfying manner. Rocks are there. The tunnels are familiar. And all the secrets of Hanzo’s favorite offense are preserved. This is Dig Dug. It might not have the finer graphics of the arcade edition, but, for a game that had to survive on the Atari, it is very much Dig Dug. Even a primitive attempt at the dirt gradient is here, complete with the different colors that appear on later levels. That means they actually expected someone to get past the third stage! That’s dedication and optimism!
But why does it work? Is it just because it’s a simple copy of the original? Because it looks close enough to the arcade style to be legitimate? Or is it something less tangible? Is it simply because this version of Dig Dug has the right “feel”?
And, to answer that question, we should look at two of Dig Dug’s sequels: Dig Dug 2, and Dig Dug Arrangement. Dig Dug 2 was released three years after the original Dig Dug, and attempted to build on Dig Dug’s initial gameplay by introducing wholesale island demolition to Dig Dug’s repertoire. Rather than puttering around underground, Taizo Hori is sticking to the sunlight this time, but still moving in the same general 4-directional manner. And rather than wholly relying on his trusty pump, he can now detonate parts of the playfield to sink multiple monsters in one destructive go. Does it wind up being a fun game? Yep! Destroying everything in an effort to quash a villain invasion is always a good time. But does it feel like the successor to Dig Dug? Not particularly. It’s certainly a sequel to Dig Dug, but it doesn’t quite feel like Dig Dug.
Dig Dug Arrangement was released in 1996 as part of Namco Classics Collection Volume 2, a multi-game arcade cabinet. Competing for quarters against the OG and arranged versions of Pac-Man and Rally-X, this title saw Taizo return to underground pumping, but with a bevy of new monsters, levels, and even bosses. There are three whole islands, and they involve environments stretching from mundane cities to the moon. And the collection of new opponents is vulnerable to the same old actions, but there are a variety of new tricks and traps that can be employed against this parade of pests. And is it fun? Still, again, it is. But is it Dig Dug? Yes! Everything that is included isn’t some oblique slide to mine-laying or whatever was happening in Dig Dug 2, but Dig Dug taken to a more interesting dimension. It’s still four directions and one action button, but it’s also a game where detonating a robot will demolish the rest of your opponents, and discovering interesting ways to use that new technique is practically a game unto itself. A more appropriate title for the game might be Dig Dug Plus, as it feels like Dig Dug plus a whole lot of fun.
And that’s the best way to describe what makes a good Dig Dug: how it “feels”. It’s incredibly subjective, it’s nearly impossible to define, but how a game “feels” is as close as we can get to knowing the soul of a videogame experience. It’s not about the graphics or the frame rate or whether or not a character has enough cleavage (let’s face facts: Taizo is not showing enough skin in Arrangement), it’s about whether the game feels right. That’s the essence of a good game and a good port. It’s why Pac-Man Atari fails, and why Dig Dug Atari succeeds.
If it feels right, it touches the soul of the game, and that’s what makes for a happy player.
FGC #490 Dig Dug
- System: We’re looking at the Atari version, but Dig Dug has been on practically every system ever made thanks to various compilations. It somehow missed the SNES, though.
- Number of players: Probably one of those two player alternating Atari games, but one player is probably the right way to look at it.
- Pooka or Fygar: Fygar scared me as a child, as you just never knew when those jerks were gonna toss off some atomic firebreath. Pookas, meanwhile, wear goggles. So you should know which is my favorite monster.
- Goggle Bob Fact: Dig Dug was one of the earliest games I ever played with “offensive options”, so I want to say Pooka was one of the first creatures, videogame or otherwise, that I ever instinctively murdered. The spree starts here!
- Did you know? Dig Dug Arranged has a two-player co-op mode, and both players share a score. That’s neat! It’s not competitive in any way! Everybody work together now.
- Would I play again: Dig Dug is great arcade action. I might never try the Atari version again, but I’m sure I’ll hit the arcade version again on one of another six compilations.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Devil May Cry 3! That game is featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series! Please look forward to it!