Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dig Dug Restrospective #1 - Dig Dug (ディグダグ)

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Source: Flyer Fever
In 1980, Japanese game developer Toru Iwatani unleashed his newest creation to the video game world, Pac-Man. Saying the dot-muncher was a success is an understatement; Pac-Man caught on like wildfire across the world, especially in North America. Lunchboxes, cereal, toys, board games, clocks and really anything else was guaranteed to have the ghost-gobbler graced across it. With the success of really any video game, there’s going to be a few games that try to cash in on the success, and Pac-Man is no exception; in fact, knockoff Pac-Man games are even believed to have sold nearly 300,000 cabinets combined, almost as much as the real deal. Some games, such as Lock’n Chase, Ladybug and Raimais, use Pac-Man as a basis for their own original ideas, while some games blatantly steal graphics and sound effects from the game for the sole purpose of making a quick penny.

With a storm of Pac-Man copycats flooding the scene by the early 1980s, Namco sought to capitalize on the success of their signature character themselves. Game designers for the big N had always been interested in allowing players to design their own Pac-Man-esc mazes to play around with, rather than be plopped in a pre-set design. This idea lead to one of Namco’s most iconic titles and one of the most well-known arcade games in the world; Dig Dug.

Namco’s subterranean maze game, running on the same arcade hardware as the legendary Galaga, was released on April 29, 1982 in Japan, and was later released in May by former giant Atari, who Namco would replace Midway with in releasing their arcade classics overseas. Atari believed this game would be a smash hit, and they were right; the game was one of the most popular arcade games of that year, and was ported to every system imaginable, including the Atari 2600, MSX, Famicom and the likes. The game was also a considerable success in Japan, and was ranked up with the likes of Pac-Man, Galaga and Pole Position.
Image result for dig dug mame
Source: MAME

Players take control of the signature character Dig Dug (later renamed to Taizo Hori, which is a play on the Japanese phrase “horitaizo”, meaning “I wanna dig!”), and must dig through each screen to rid of the pesky enemies Pooka and Fygar. Pookas are red tomato-resembling enemies with giant yellow goggles, that will simply give pursue to Dig Dug should he be nearby. Fygars are green, fire-breathing dragons that will sometimes stop in their tracks to unleash their fiery breath, which can toast Dig Dug should the poor fellow be in front of them. The goal is simply; kill the enemies and continue to the next stage. Where Dig Dug differentiates from other maze games is your way of killing enemies. There are no Power Pellets or similar items at your disposal - instead, you are given a bicycle pump, and you will need to pump up the enemies full of air before they explode. For a game released just two years after Pac-Man, it seems like a violent, albeit comical, way to die.

If you feel pity for killing the enemies this way, there’s also another way to rid them. Each stage is sprinkled with rocks. These aren’t for decoration, but rather they can crush all enemies that happen to be directly under them, which can score a hefty amount of points. Be cautious about this however, as Dig Dug himself can get a taste of his own medicine should he let go of that rock. Causing two rocks to fall in a stage, regardless if they kill an enemy or not, will cause a vegetable to appear in the center of the stage, much like Pac-Man’s fruit bonuses. These take the form of carrots, turnips, watermelons and even the iconic Galaxian flagship, a staple in Namco culture. The vegetable will not appear should the player be killed before dropping the second rock, so take this into consideration.

Like practically every other arcade game from the time period, Dig Dug has no ending, and will simply stop should the player lose all of their lives. Much like the dot muncher himself, there’s also a kill screen should the player reach level 256; this screen will instantly kill Dig Dug as a Pooka is placed directly above him. This glitch only appears in the Namco version; the North American release by Atari simply kicks the player back to round 1.
Image result for dig dug famicom
Source: Video Game Den

Although the game wasn’t as enormous as a success as Pac-Man was, Dig Dug is considered one of Namco’s most memorable and well-known video games, and has appeared on dozens of consoles, handhelds, computers and even phones. The game’s characters would also make numerous cameos in later games; Pooka especially, as he’s shown up in everything from Tekken to Ridge Racer, alongside the Special Flag ala Rally-X and the Galaxian Flagship. Namco has also included Dig Dug in many of their Namco Museum collections, keeping the game in the public eye once more. The game’s simply mechanics and memorable characters makes it a noteworthy entry in the Golden Age of Arcade games and in Namco’s enormous library of games and franchises.

Join me next post as I cover the less successful - but still enjoyable - follow-up title release just a few years later in Japan only.

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