Grab that joystick, mash that button as we go on a journey digging underground to collect vegetables, pump up Pookas, and dropping rocks on Fygars. This is Dig Dug -- the strategic underground arcade digging game that took the video game industry by storm in the early 1980's. Released by Namco in Japan, the game was brought to America and Europe by Atari's arcade division. It wouldn't be long after that when Atari's console division made home versions of the game for the Atari 2600, 5200, and 7800 consoles. All three versions capture the essence of the game but which one stands out the most?
That is the purpose of this writing. I sat down over the weekend and played all three versions of the game to answer my own question of which one was the better Dig Dug. Fans of the game and Atari consoles might have a personal favorite because it was probably the one they played growing up. I get it, I know that way of thinking very well as I, too, grew up on Atari's Dig Dug for my first Atari console. But I went in to this being completely biased and taking mental notes on what I liked and didn't like about each version on an individual basis. I also kept mental notes on which one I was playing the most. This one is more for my own personal satisfaction. It is in no way saying which one is better for everyone, everywhere. The answer I came up with may surprise you. But it would be foolish to give the answer away first thing and make for a very short blog post. So I will start off with the version I grew up with first.
The 5200's Dig Dug is the version I grew up with. I spent many hours on this game without reading the instructions of course. Then again I'm sure those of us who had an Atari did a similar thing...in goes the cartridge, in the trash went everything else including instructions. If only I had read those instructions but more on that later. The 5200 version gets points for looking more like the arcade with the exception of the single-colored sprites or characters.
Everything else looks good. The game play is definitely here and the sound effects that make Dig Dug enjoyable are also present and done very well. Having grown up with the 5200 allowed me to gain an appreciation for the system so the controller was nothing new to me. The controls worked fine, no issues. However I could easily understand how this game would be a flop if and when a controller decides to stop working properly.
The 5200 was marketed as an at-home arcade system and its ports of the then-popular arcade hits were nothing short of a miracle and Dig Dug still holds up well on this console. On a more personal note I think the game would have been a bit better with multicolored characters. At least Fygar looks like a dragon. I just wish that the Pookas had their iconic yellow masks.
Now...on to the next version I played.
Dig Dug on the 7800 gets points for the much improved graphics...and the characters finally look like their arcade cousins. The game play is smooth, graphics are good, sounds are OK, and the controls works. The only thing about this Dig Dug I don't like has nothing to do with the game but more with the controller. The 7800's original controller is so uncomfortable that playing this game for any kind of enduring high score run is almost impossible. This is easily eliminated by using a Europad controller or even the standard 2600 style controller. Using any kind of controller besides that 7800 controller would be a blessing in disguise.
However, to stay true to my original concept of trying Dig Dug using all original hardware I hung in there. I found myself playing this one a few times before reaching the point my hands simply couldn't take it any more. I had fun with this version and the 7800's Dig Dug can be fun. It's a real shame that this was not released when it was ready and when it would have mattered. What I did notice was how quick the game was unforgiving. It didn't take long for three or four monsters to turn into ghosts and come after me. Usually within the first and second rounds. I simply couldn't do as good on the 7800 version as I could on the 5200 version on the default settings. And we have now reached the final version of Dig Dug I tried.
Dig Dug on the 2600 was one I remember playing after years of owning the 5200 Dig Dug. At first glance the game doesn't look as good as its 5200 and 7800 siblings. The characters look OK, the controls are good, the sounds are as good as they can be (which the 7800 has the exact same sounds), it's just the dirt, or what is suppose to be dirt, is just thin solid bars. There is a little bit of flicker which is understandable considering the hardware and memory limitations. But the game play is what is all about when the 2600 is in the spotlight. To my surprise the 2600 Dig Dug holds its own. And considering the large amount of various controller styles for the 2600 I can see how anyone could sit and do a decent high score run on this system with very little to no fatigue.
I have to say what impresses me the most about this version is how colorful it seems over the others. Bright, solid, vibrant colors that are easy to look at. They don't appear dull, dark or dingy like the 5200 and 7800 versions can sometimes appear. It's just an overall fun experience.
Now, to the section that was hard for me to decide...which one ranks above the others. The 5200 I am sentimentally partial to so that would normally rank it above all others. If it was the only Atari Dig Dug I had I would be satisfied with it. It does play well for what it's worth. The 7800 version looks remarkably better but I do wish they would have done different sounds instead of just copying those from the 2600 version. And if I was stuck with the original 7800 controllers there's no way my hands could tolerate lengthy amount of game play. I'd have to use a different controller. The 7800 controllers are just not balanced well. With that being said...
...the 2600 version wins this round. I have to be honest here because the 2600 took a really long time to capture my heart. It was very much ignored, overlooked, frowned upon during its production run and even years after. Trying to be biased for this game on the 2600 was not easy for me to do. When I played it before I wasn't sure why I was playing it or if I even wanted to play it. Over the last few years I have slowly discovered all the games I missed that ended up being a lot of fun. And that's what the 2600 was about...fun. It wasn't about the graphics or sounds...it was all about the game play. And Atari nailed it on the 2600 version of Dig Dug. It's colorful and after a while the appearance of the dirt just starts to blend in. It's a formula that just works, pure and simple.
To my surprise I found myself playing Dig Dug on the 2600 more often than on the 5200 and 7800 systems. The 2600 keeps proving to me time and time again what its true nature is. It's a game machine where it is not always about how the game looks but how the game is played. And Dig Dug on the 2600 plays very well. And it would be easy to do a long running high score attempt on it without worrying about fatigue or sore hands. The 2600 has a lot of character for a simple machine and Dig Dug fits in very well into its library of arcade ports. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to return to my 2600 to play some more Dig Dug.
Oh...I almost forgot! Getting back to those instructions. It wasn't until I recently picked up a new copy of Dig Dug for the 2600 where I learned how to get those vegetables to show up. All I had to do was drop two rocks. I sat down to read the instructions and that's when I discovered it. I've had Dig Dug, buying it new in box as well, for the 5200 for at least ten years now and I've never read the instructions or I would have known that tip a lot sooner. OK...back to more Dig Dug. Have Fun!!