Dig Dug maintains gameplay across the line by Brian C. Rittmeyer
July 19, 2001
What any Atari collector with multiple systems will quickly figure out is they wind up with a number of different versions of the same game. In my case,
Ms. Pac-Man is the game I have the most versions of at five - on the 2600, 5200, 7800, 8-bit computer and Lynx. (Yes, I actually have a "multi-system" list, listing the games I have for multiple systems and for
Another game released for many Atari and competing systems was the arcade hit
Dig Dug, which I have for the 2600, 5200 and 7800. Whereas the games differ in graphics, they are very much alike in music, sound and, most importantly, gameplay, making all three fun to play.
For those unfamiliar, the game casts you as Dig Dug. The game takes place underground and you burrow through the dirt. Your two opponents are Pooka, a round orange monster with glasses, and Fygar, a fire breathing dragon, and they're both out to get you. You kill them not by shooting, but by pumping - they fill with air and explode! You can walk over them when they're partially filled up, but any other contact will kill you, as will Fygar's fire. The deeper you are when you kill them, the more points you get. Since Fygar can only breathe fire horizontally, attacking him that way gives you more points than attacking from above or below, but it's riskier. You can also take them out by dropping rocks on them - drop two rocks to get a fruit or veggie to appear in the center of the screen that you can collect for bonus points.
If you don't get them quick enough, Pooka and Fygar also have the ability to leave their spaces and travel through the earth as ghosts. They become solid again upon entering a tunnel. The last monster left will try to quickly escape by going to the surface and exiting, stage left. As the game advances, there are more monsters on screen, they begin pairing up, and they come after you more quickly.
The 2600 version of Dig Dug was quite impressive for its day. Whereas most games came on with the game screen already up,
Dig Dug actually had an introduction screen, with the name scrolling out, Atari flashing at the bottom, and
Dig Dug walking out on screen, blowing up Pooka and Fygar. This by itself was more interesting than some 2600 games. The music is exceptionally good for the 2600, both at the start of a game and during play. The graphics are simplified -
Dig Dug is just white, Pooka has holes for eyes instead of glasses, the dirt is made up of differently colored solid lines, the rocks are squares, there are no flowers to indicate level and there is some flicker. However, graphics limitations aside, the game was considered a very good arcade translation for its day and is still fun to play.
The 5200 allowed for improved graphics, but it's not seen all the way around. While the rocks and dirt look better over the 2600, and the flowers now appear to indicate level, Dig Dug looks almost identical to his 2600 counterpart, while Pooka and Fygar have suffered. They actually appear worse than on the 2600 - Pooka still has holes for eyes, but they actually look more like glasses on the 2600; Fygar appears to have lost detail from the 2600 version, looking more like a dragon on the 2600 and more like a green blob on the 5200. Because such a good job was done with sound and music on the 2600, neither seem improved on the 5200. Even the introduction screen is at issue - whereas there was a colorful, animated intro for the 2600, the 5200 has a static screen.
To be given the same graphic improvement as the dirt and rocks, the game's characters would have to wait for their 7800 version.
Dig Dug on the 7800 starts with the return of an animated introductory screen - the name is flashing and Fygars and Pookas are parading at the bottom. The rocks, dirt and flowers are only slightly different from the 5200; the biggest change is seen in the characters, who now are rendered in more than one color.
Dig Dug for the first time has blue in his figure and recognizable eyes. A notable difference from the arcade for all three versions is
Dig Dug is never seen actually using his pump, a hose just shoots out from him. On the bad guys, Pooka finally has his glasses, or goggles; Fygar gets the most justice over the 5200 version, looking like a real dragon - he even gets teeth, although his eyes are a bit funny looking. While the 7800's graphics could be said to be the best of the three consoles, they do have a somewhat bulbous look to them. Again, the sound and music are pretty much consistent over all three versions, which is fine since it was good all the way back on the 2600.
The same game, on three different consoles. While differing in graphics, they have the most important trait in common - they preserve the gameplay that made the arcade original so much fun, making any version enjoyable, then and now.