Dig Dug was another classic arcade game published by Namco (the Pacman guys) You’re a little white guy named Dig Dug (presumably American; if he were British or Canadian he’d be Dig Doug and his name’d be more normal), and your object is to dig. The dirt you dig will be dug, and you get points for all the dug dirt you dig. In addition, two types of creatures are found in your dirt: little dwarf-looking dudes with scuba goggles on and some sort of dragons wearing vests that breathe fire (duh). Your real object is to rid your poor garden of these pests. One way is to dig underneath a “rock” which looks way more like an eggplant. The rock will fall, and hopefully crush a dwarf or dragon. The other way is a bit more grotesque: you’ve got a little air pump that you can use to inflate a creature until it explodes in a gory fashion. Well, gory for a game made in 1981, anyway. Well, fine, there’s no gore, but it still looks like a horrible way to go. I’d rather have a rock dropped on me!
When you’ve destroyed all the creatures you move on to the next level, where there are more creatures. This may prove to be more difficult that originally predicted, however, as both the dwarf-things and dragons have an ability to suddenly turn into uncrushable, uninflatable ghosts that come straight at you until they touch you and you also turn into a ghost (or at least just lose a life). Since the beasts obviously are going for you when they pull this trick, one may wonder why they don’t just swarm you in their unkillable state, providing no escape for poor D(o)ug. Instead they just (sometimes) turn back into inflatable creatures when they hit a tunnel. One also may wonder how many early video game heros would suffer quick and/or painful deaths if early video game antagonists could do more than move in a line and shoot. Sheesh, it’s like the Daleks! “Oh no! Stairs!”
Anyway, back to the game. Dig Dug is another game in the Namco tradition of “super-simple concept made addicting” and it’s a pretty fun game. The controls are a little quirky, as you can’t turn unless you’re at an exact spot in a tunnel, as you can only make tunnels a certain distance apart. The graphics ain’t too hot on this port, so if you want better graphics go find an arcade version, but this one holds up all right in terms of gameplay.
Side note: apparently Dig Dug (the character) was later referred to as the “Hero of the South Island Incident.” This fires the imagination much more than exploding vest-wearing dragons using an air pump. Or maybe that’s just me.
Rating: C (like Pacman, there are better versions out there)
Pogoman is a surprising little game, and one of the most influential games I played as a kid. For anyone who’s played this game that may seem surprising, as the game, while fun, is certainly nothing incredibly groundbreaking. You’re a little blue guy on a rolling pogo stick (yeah, I know it doesn’t make sense) rolling through a town at night, although you look more like the international handicapped sign guy without the wheel on the back. Occasionally you have to jump over sewer grates, fire hydrants, and cars. If you hit one you fall down and your pogo stick becomes a neutron star apparently, as it looks like all your limbs get sucked into it until you’re a painful blue blob. There are certain street lights along the route that you can jump up and swipe for extra points, giving this seemingly law-abiding pogo man a dangerous criminal undertone.
At the end of the first level you go back to the start and do it again. You don’t even loop back to the start; you’re just going along and suddenly the grassy-looking park in the background glitches back to the buildings at the beginning. But now, the city’s a bit more populated: there are cats, ducks, and unicyclists (!!) that are now coming at you, and you get neutron-starred if you hit any of them as well (oddly enough, the unicyclists breeze on by as if nothing happened. Those guys have got inner ear control to die for). Starting at the third level, a bird comes screaming out of the sky at your face every few seconds. Presumably the bird can’t see where it’s going to be flying into people’s faces, possibly because, oh, I don’t know, somebody stole all the freakin’ street lights in the city!! Well, you made your bed; now you’ve got to lie in it.
While Pogoman is a pretty fun, simple game in its own right, what made it one of my favorites was the tune that played over and over during the whole game. It seemed…peaceful. That was rare for any video game at the time, what with limited sound hardware trying to bleep and bloop its way into your brain. Playing this game was my childhood equivalent of turning on Enya, going into some sort of yoga pose, and doing those deep breaths that help a person control his or her inner chi or kai or whatever. After a hard day of schoolwork and kids kicking you down hills because you’re two years ahead of them in math and you pick your nose, it was nice to have something to relax to. The music here was one of the pieces that influenced me to become interested in music later in life. In fact, not too many years ago I even did a remix of it that you can find on my Soundclick page (note: the clarinet sound suuuucks!).
In any case, check it out when you’re feeling stressed enough that you just need to relax and think of nothing but jumping over convertibles and unicycles for a while. You’ll be glad you did.
Race in Space
This game is so obscure that my blog pops up fourth in a Google search for “race in space” atari. It’s a fun little multiplayer game in which you race a friend to the top of the screen several times. Every time you hit the top of the screen you get a point. Whoever had the most points at the end of three minutes wins! Normal obstacles include the stars that drift across the screen. They’re not really stars, I assume (unless these are freakin’ huge spaceships), since hitting one sends you sprawling back to the beginning.
The real fun in this game, though, comes from the options to customize the gameplay. You can change what the joystick trigger does: it either has no effect, shoots a missile at the other player (which gets you a point if it hits him), turns on a shield (which makes you immune to the stars, but you can’t move while it’s on), or move at super-fact speed. You can change the density of the stars until there’s almost more star than space onscreen. You can change between rockets (which can only go straight up and down) and saucers (which can move anywhere). You can turn on comets, which are giant glowing balls of static that blow by at varying speeds and take your ship down with them if they make contact. And finally, and most strangely, you can switch between a “positive” and “negative” universe. In the negative universe every few seconds the screen flashes white with a strange sound effect, causing seizures in all the poor epileptic kids playing the game.
Race in Space automatically gets some brownie points for being a competitive multiplayer game rather than a turn-based one, which was a rarity at the time. In addition, it’s pretty fun, and with all the different options you can play the game in dozens of different ways. I recommend it for anyone looking to kill three minutes with a friendly rival. (You may also note that the timer in the screenshot above doesn’t have a colon and a dot, but a line and a weird cat-looking thing. I have no idea why, but I bet the reason would make Johnny Hart’s head explode.)
Fort Apocalypse was one of my favorite games growing up, for the main reason that the game was set in a much bigger world than, say, Dig Dug or Centipede. According to Wikipedia, you’re a Rocket Copter pilot flying for the Sky Dwellers, flying into Fort Apocalypse, a dangerous Kralthan prison located deep within the Earth’s mantle. What that translates to is you’re flying a yellow helicopter that shoots and drops bombs in a big system of caverns, with tanks, little floating dudes that move slowly back and forth (see Dig Dug), and a purple helicopter flown by a guy so bent on your destruction that he often flies into walls trying to get to you rather than, you know, flying around obstacles trying to stay alive. Those poor, gullible Kralthans, with their Kralthan ways, deep in the Earth’s mantle, I tell you, boy.
Your job is to fly in these caverns and pick up guys walking around, presumably downed pilots or hostages or something. Your fuel drops steadily, but fortunately, the Kralthans have kindly provided you with two refueling stations (one in each section of the caverns), which is very thoughtful of them. The caves are not only filled with enemies, but Blue Lasers and transporters, and walls that randomly disappear and reappear. After you get to the bottom of the first level (named the Vaults of Draconis), you enter the Crystalline Caverns. This level has four main sections: a tunnel at the top, a cavern filled with lasers and tanks, a cavern filled with shootable walls, and some sort of reactor core that you must blow up. Unfortunately, the game randomly picks which of the two caverns leads to the reactor core, so you can spend fifteen freakin’ minutes shooting through all those walls just to find a dead end. Anyway, once the reactor core blows up all the lasers (and transporters, sadly) stop working and you can easily fly back up to the Vaults of Draconis and fly out. Yay! You’ve saved the nameless people from the random bad guys, and more impressively, you flew a helicopter into and out of the Earth’s mantle! I mean, what the foo?!?
Fort Apocalypse shares some attributes with later-generation games: a larger world for you to explore rather than a repeating screen with progressively faster and harder enemies. Unfortunately, unlike, say, Pitfall II, the world isn’t interesting enough to return to, so after you beat the game once there isn’t much to keep you coming back. Oh sure, there’s a score, but it’s like the score in Super Mario Bros.: nobody really cares unless you’re playing in some sort of tournament or something. Do try it though; it’s fun at least once!
And now, another sports game for you hopeless computer game nerds. Fortunately, this game is a lot easier to figure out than Starbowl Football, mostly because baseball itself is much less complicated than football. I’m not going to explain the rules of the game (it’s frikkin’ baseball), but I will say that it’s pretty easy to control as either team. The sound effects are pretty good for the time, from the crack of the bat to the crowd’s cheering, to the fanfares played between innings and when bases are stolen or loaded. The most entertaining part of the game, however, comes at inning breaks, when it cuts to the Jumbotron screen advertising random things from the scores in that day’s American League games to the day’s attendance to a plug for a waterskiier jumping across the Bermuda Triangle the following week. Goony!
As far as sports simulation on the Atari goes, Gamestar Baseball was a very good, intuitive game, and if you are into old-school sports games I would advise you to put this one near the top of the list.
That does it for Disk 8. Coming up next: the first side of Disk 9, which covers Jumbo Jet Pilot, Eastern Front 1941, Drelbs, Miner 2049er, and Dog Daze. See you then!