Best Games - Dig Dug
Pac-Man and Rally X have a lot to answer for. They spawned a genre so pervasive that, at one point, nearly all new arcade games were maze games. Not until fighting games would we see one genre so heavily over-represented in the industry.
The video games industry, with all its diversity of ideas and themes, is very much not immune to chasing trends. In fact, if there is one thing you can be sure of, any time there is a hit game there will be some sort of riff on that concept coming down the pike in short order.
When maze games became popular, you could be pretty certain that any and all types of maze chase games would be available soon.
There is another thing about the video games industry. It’s extremely iterative. If there is a good game out there, not only will there be a copy or clone available soon, there will also be new and interesting twists on the concept.
Dig Dug is what happens when you make a maze chase game, but you take out the maze, and dramatically reframe the chase.
In Pac-Man, you spend most of your time running away from pursuing ghost monsters. The corridors are unyielding, and you need to plan a head to stay just out of reach of the ghosts. Occasionally you can turn the tables for a few moments, but only a few.
Dig Dug removes the maze. You can go anywhere you want. Dig any patch of dirt. You create the maze. While you do move slightly faster through air than dirt, you are not constrained in any real way. That’s genre flip number one.
Genre flip number two? You aren’t running from the monsters. The player character, Taizo Hori, is easily the most dangerous thing on the screen. The monsters are running from you.
While the monsters outnumber you, they will try to be aggressive and chase you down, but you can pretty easily dispatch one monster. Even two is not much of a problem. You simply pump them up with your bicycle pump until they pop. Comical, but not exactly non-violent.
It’s only when you are swarmed that the monsters have much of a chance against you. You need to play smart to out maneuver them. Force them into tunnels that lead them right to you, or drop carefully timed rocks on their heads. If you plan well, you can crush a whole group of cartoon monsters under the same rock.
This is a maze chase, but you are the one doing the chasing.
These simple changes to the genre lead to a game that is far more strategic and thoughtful. You aren’t reacting. You are setting traps. You aren’t prey, you are the hunter. You are corralling and managing space.
It doesn’t hurt that Dig Dug is a cute and borderline delightful affair. There is a jaunty tune that plays every time you take a step, but stops when you stop. This gives the player a subtle nudge. If you keep moving, the music keeps playing, so you should always be moving. Moving, planning, scheming.
Dig Dug is not just another maze game. It’s a jazz remix of maze games, a stylistic bit of genre bending. Dig Dug is what happens when a developer doesn’t slavishly follow the trends, but instead plays with them.
More than that, Dig Dug is one of the best games.