Friday, December 27, 2019

Game 126: Dig Dug

Dig Dug is one of many classic arcade games that I would have never played without MAME. I remember seeing it in arcades in the 90’s, but never played it, or even noticed the name – all I even noticed was the odd looking title screen – I think it had the Atari logo on it – which made me think of a fighting game, with large sprites of Dig Dug shaking his fist at a Fygar.

MAME allowed me to play this game for the first time, and finally had a name to connect with that title screen. It mainly reminded me of a slew of shareware Boulder Dash clones that had been quite popular on DOS, but with cutesy graphics and music, and a horrific way of murdering your enemies (aside from the already horrific boulder crushing); inflating them with a bike pump until they burst like an over-pumped tire.

I never spent all that much time on it back then, but with Data Driven Gamer, I felt compelled to dig deeper.

Dig Dug allows continues, which posed a problem for my high score methodology. Do I allow continues, or not? Using continues will reset your score, but later rounds are higher scoring, so would it be cheating to use continues to effectively start the game on a later round, where the risks are higher, and the rewards greater? I decided it would be, and disallowed myself the use of continues.

Dig Dug is ultimately a game of risk vs. reward. Crushing your enemies is always better for your score than bursting them, and the more you can manage at once, the better. But they don’t always cooperate with your plans, and the longer you take herding enemies into a line following you toward an inescapable boulder trap, the more likely it is that another enemy will screw up your plans by turn into a ghost and phasing through the dirt, heading right for you.

Aside from crushing enemies, there some reliable ways to boost your score. When you’ve dropped two rocks, regardless of if they crushed anyone, a vegetable spawns in the starting place, and during later rounds these vegetables can be worth more than typical crush combos, making it worthwhile to drop useless boulders just so you can snag the veggies. This only happens once per round; dropping four rocks does not spawn two vegetables. Bursting enemies are worth more points the deeper underground you are, and the firebreathing Fygars are worth double if you burst them while facing a horizontal direction, which isn’t all that difficult to do safely. Bursting a Fygar in that manner at the deepest level is worth the same amount of points as crushing one, so it’s still better to get a double rock combo if possible. Finally, eating dirt is worth points, but so few that it doesn’t seem worthwhile to spent extra time in a level doing this.

I enjoyed Dig Dug, even though I frequently found its randomness to be frustrating. For all the ways the game can randomly screw you over, it provides a lot of tools to mitigate this risk, or deal with problems as they occur. Ghostly enemies are slow and predictable, and will instantly revert to normal form whenever they hit a tunnel, and so you can proactively defend yourself from nasty surprises by digging redundant ghost trap tunnels between stray enemies and your corridors of death. But the more time spent preparing, the more enemies will catch up with you. Your pump can be used to slow enemies down without killing them, in preparation for a big boulder combo, but when more than two enemies are chasing you, this quickly becomes impractical, and on later levels they can outrun you. When you drop a rock, they’ll try to run out of the way, Raider of the Lost Ark style, and it’s difficult to predict whether they’ll make it out of the tunnel or not. But sometimes when they successfully escape, they’ll just turn around and walk right back in.

GAB rating: Good. An uncontroversial Namco classic.


  1. I've never liked Dig Dug all that much myself. For much the same reasons I've never liked Pac-Man that much either. All the levels just feel too same-y, especially since you're trapped to just the single screen. It feels too much like a chore to just repeatedly kill the same enemies (or eat the same dots) in the same level over and over.

  2. Just found this, after writing about the game briefly for my own blog (linked in my profile :). I had only played the MS-DOS port, provided to me on a copied floppy with my new, clone XT I got in the 3rd grade. I had never seen it in the arcade, so the less-beautiful CGA port was what I had, and as a result, I never got hooked. Like the previous comment -- no variation, just the same thing over and over.


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