Review: Dig Dug (Atari 7800)

By Drew Wilson

In this review, we are digging our way through to another classic: Dig Dug. This action game is another one of what is considered a classic game from back in the day. Is this worth playing now? We find out.

Dig Dug is considered to be another great classic by some older gamers. The game was released in 1984 and again in 1987 and is a port from the arcade version.

This game is somewhat unique for a game of it’s time in that you have to dig down into the ground and defeat all of the enemies by seemingly shooting out a tethered projectile and inflating the enemies with air until they explode. Defeat all of the enemies or scare the remaining survivors off the screen and you advance to the next level.

For every level you advance in this game, you’ll see a new flower appear in the top right hand corner. If you clear ten levels, the ten flowers disappear and is replaced by a different flower. I’m not exactly sure how many levels there are, but let’s just say there are plenty of levels you can complete.

You are given four lives to rack up a high score. If you run out of lives, the game will be over. The one thing that is interesting about this game is the fact that if you choose to continue, you begin at the level you ended at and continue from there (with all of the monsters on that level reset of course. The penalty for running out of lives beyond having the enemies reset is the fact that your score resets to zero as well.

You are the only thing (to my knowledge) that can create new tunnels. Enemies cannot create new tunnels (or, at least the orange thing and the fire breathing green thing can’t anyway. While this makes the game sound easy, enemies have the ability to turn into some sort of ghost-like version of themselves and move through the dirt towards you. They move slower when they transform into this version of themselves, but they can simply get at you directly. Your ability to attack these monsters when they are in this state depends entirely on how far into the open space they are. To put it into context, the monsters in this state move as fast as your character while digging.

Another interesting thing about this game is that when you only have one enemy left on the screen, the last remaining enemy will attempt to flee by simply taking a direct rout to the surface. If the enemy makes it to the surface, the enemy can then simply walk off screen. If the enemy does this, then the round ends, depriving you of a few points in the process.

There are two ways you can defeat enemies. The first is your main weapon which has a limited range. If you successfully hit an enemy, the enemy will become stunned. Using the fire button repeatedly will gradually inflate the enemy. If you hit the enemy about 4 times, the enemy will burst open and disappear. One interesting thing I found was the fact that if you simply continually press the fire button, you can defeat enemies at a certain rate. However, if you fire and move at the same time, you can fire at a quicker rate. Added to this is the fact that you will re-shoot your weapon instead ot continually inflating one enemy. This is especially handy when you are faced with two or three enemies in roughly the same location.

The second way to defeat enemies is to draw them in towards you. When you have the enemies attention, quickly dig directly under a boulder. Once you dig past this boulder, there will be a brief delay before the boulder falls. Whatever happens to be underneath that boulder (you, an enemy, multiple enemies, or you and multiple enemies) will become crushed and killed instantly. Personally, I found that this is an effective strategy only in particular circumstances.

I found this game to be quite interesting, actually. Unlike some of the other Atari games I’ve been playing, there’s a sense of progression that causes you to keep playing. As long as you die less than four times per level, you’ll always be at least progressing to the next stage.

Graphically, for a game of the late 80s, this game was quite decent. There isn’t the extremely oversized pixels I’ve already seen in other games and there isn’t a bleak black backdrop with only a few items moving around on the screen. It had a sense of being a full game with the whole screen space being utilized in some form or another. So, great all around.

For a game of it’s time compared to other games that share a similar age, the audio of this game was also well done. There’s a soundtrack to this game – namely at least one song and a set of jingles that constantly get you through the game. I didn’t find the music annoying in this game (even though it was only one song) because the game is always spitting out random jingles to mix things up. It can’t play the song and a jingle at the same time, so you are constantly going back and forth between different sounds. The sound effects were decently well done too. Good all around.

Overall, I found this game to be very approachable. While there is a bit of a learning curve, the levels, to some degree, match how much I ended up learning in terms of strategy. So the difficulty was generally the same until I got into the late 30 levels. The only reason I stopped playing was because I needed to continue playing other games more so than I was finding the game too difficult. All in all, if you ask me if there’s a game produced before the 1990’s that I would recommend, this is certainly a good candidate for the games I’d recommend.


Furthest point in game: Made it to level 37 before getting a solid idea of what the game is like.

General gameplay: 19/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 78%

Update: Amended article to note that this game was originally released in 1984. 1987 was a later run of this game. Hat tip Atari History Book for spotting this.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85

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