I suppose before diving straight into this game, I should get who I am and what I do out of the way. My name is Josh Stewart, and I’ve been following Questicle since its earliest days. Dylan has moved on to the massive undertaking of playing everything for every Sega console, but I’m sure you already knew that. In the time since starting Sega Does, though, he was looking for a few good men (you want the truth, you can’t handle the truth, etc) to write about games that didn’t make their way to the US. I jumped on the offer immediately, then in true fashion (if you knew me personally, it would be so fitting) took forever to actually get my business together on what I wanted to do.
After a lot of careful deliberation, I’ve realized that on top of releases that simply never made it to the States, there were quite a few games that were altered conversions of Famicom titles, some with major differences (like Doki Doki Panic, which I’m sure I’ll never need to cover), and some with marginal differences (oddly inspired by myself beating Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, then realizing that the game’s stages were totally reordered from the Japanese version). On top of that, there are some games that obviously just never made it here that are quite intriguing such as Europe’s New Ghostbusters 2 or Nintendo’s Japanese release Devil World, and legendary prototypes for unreleased games like Drac’s Night Out (Featuring the Reebok Pump!), Bio Force Ape, and the recently unearthed Japanese prototype for Monster Party (Halloween is on the way already, so keep your eyes peeled). To start with, though, I’m going with one that’s just extremely strange.
Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Bust out your Namcots: it’s Diggerin’ time!
The NES was loaded to the brim with ports of classic arcade games. From their own titles such as Donkey Kong and Popeye, to third-party greats like BurgerTime, Paperboy, the NES was known just as much for solid ports of arcade games as it was for original titles like Metroid and Zelda. As a kid, I played these constantly, but it wasn’t until a few years back, browsing the Virtual Console on the Wii’s Shop Channel, that I realized an absolute classic arcade game – one that seemed to be on every platform, including the Commodore 64, Atari 2600, 5200, AND 7800 – never seemed to make it to the little grey box we loved so much.
Namco’s classic Dig Dug was never released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. There was a Famicom release of the title (which is what I noticed on the Shop Channel), but what would keep the NES version from seeing a release compared to the horrendous 2600 port?
The game starts as one would expect, with a regular black title screen and an attract mode showing some basic gameplay. Okay, looks just like Dig Dug to me, not sure what the difference is here. So I hit start, play through a few rounds, and it all makes perfect sense to me in that moment. Every version of Dig Dug I have ever played begins with Dug running across the face of the earth in the blue sky before digging into the earth to inflate horribly mutated creatures to their ultimate destruction. The 1985 Famicom release, however, is a different story.
Journey to the center of one freak nasty planet.
This is the darkest version of Dig Dug imaginable, not only in color, but in tone. The sky is charcoal black, and not just because it’s night. This is a seared sky in the post-apocalypse. Dig Dug is one of the only survivors in the world, and a savior of humanity. He wears a full-body HAZMAT-style suit to hunt the horrifically mutated creatures under the earth’s crust. With each stage cleared of mutants, a new flower is able to grow on the surface of the planet.
Clearly Namco thought that this “I Am Legend”-esque world of Dig Dug was simply too much for American consumers to handle in the early years of the NES. The stark, painful reality of nuclear apocalypse was overwhelming enough in the height of the Cold War. We needed real heroes, like Patrick Swayze and all those high schoolers in “Red Dawn,” not whatever Dig Dug was.
Or perhaps I’m just overthinking this. Namco probably never felt the need to port the game because the other console releases (like the dreadful 2600 version) simply didn’t sell well. That said, I’m sure the black sky just had to do with the hardware limitations of the NES and how many colors could be on-screen at one time. One palette change sure can make all the difference in the active imagination of an insomniac, though.
“Where have all the flowers gone?… oh wait, there they are.”
Other than that one change, this is your absolute basic Dig Dug, through and through. You run around through dirt, dodge rocks and fire, and pump up creatures until they explode. With each stage, the difficulty increases: more monsters and rocks show up and they all try to escape to the surface faster.
Dig Dug is generic fun and good to play for about five minutes at a time. I suppose since this is a complete release, I should produce a rating, despite the fact that I never once thought about this until coming to the end of the review. To keep things simple and familiar, we’ll go with the same letter rating system as Dylan’s reviews.
Oh, and if for some reason you feel the need to follow me on some form of social media, I’m pretty easy to find. You can find me on Twitter as @Brakywaki, and I’m also a moderator on Screwattack under the same name. On top of that I occasionally do a podcast (mostly about movies) called MENtertainment Weekly, where you can hear me in all my true crudeness.