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Thats what keeps geeks from getting old

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Parallel Thinking in Classic Games: Dig Dug and Mr. Do

Be it a book, a movie, or a cola additive, whenever something resonates with the public, it isn’t long before a host of ‘me-too’ products hit the market. In the golden era of the 1980s, it would greatly benefit the earning potential of a game if it bore a resemblance in to an existing heavy-hitter. For example, Pac-Man inspired a host of thinly-veiled clones with minor tweaks meant to piggyback off of the amber orb’s crowd appeal. Ladybug, Lock ‘N’ Chase, and Mousetrap are just a handful of knockoffs that stole the core mechanics of Namco’s cash cow. A side-by-side comparison shows the swiped inspiration, despite the addition of gimmicks such as swinging doors or collectable items.

Sometimes, though, companies released games that were eerily close to one another in a time frame that made the possibility of idea theft unlikely. Namco’s Dig-Dug and Universal’s Mr. Do fit this mold, being released within a few scant months of one another. Considering most classic games had a development time of over a year, it doesn’t seem possible that one title stole from the other. Still, one wonders if there was a corporate spy feeding secrets from one company to another.

Both games feature a character able to dig both horizontally and vertically in the dirt, leaving a jagged-edged trail. In Dig-dug, the player can drop rocks on multiple baddies for additional points. Likewise, Mr. Do, can release giant apples onto monsters below. In both games, food items appear in the center of the screen, each offering a chance at a bonus.

The monsters of Dig-Dug aren’t bound to their physical bodies. When trapped in a tunnel, they can become ghostly specters that penetrate the sod in their pursuit of their helmeted adversary. The demons of Mr. Do similarly have the power to unfetter themselves from a dead end. They become veritable berserkers, becoming even more clawed and crazed, able to tear the packed earth asunder and ever closer to their prey. Both games endow the player with an impractical but effective weapon, and have comical protagonists and villians. The game of Dig-Dug arms the player with a bicycle pump that can be used to inflate and pop living kickballs known as Pookas and fire-breathing dragons called Fygars. Mr. Do, conversely, has a bouncing energy ball that ricochets through the maze until it defeats a demon or is caught again by the hero.

How are these seemingly carbon copies entertaining in starkly different ways? It all boils down to focus. Dig-Dug gives the player a solitary goal: defeat all of the enemies before they consume your player. Mr. Do lets you finish a level in one of four ways: killing the monsters, collecting all of the cherries, finding a diamond, or hitting the letter targets spelling ‘E-X-T-R-A’. Dig-Dug offers refinement of play control and purpose, a narrow scope of pitch-perfect joy. Mr. Do grants open-endedness, the freedom to complete the level in a way of the user’s choosing. Dig-dug plays intuitively, embodying the old ‘simple to learn, difficult to master’ credo. Mr. Do requires a bit more trial and error, offering more variety in gameplay and techniques to master.

Dig-Dug may be the favorite of the nostalgic crowd, boasting far more sales in terms of the original title, remakes, and retro merchandise, but Mr. Do deserves his due as a hidden gem. Both games are wildly entertaining, and worth an impartial play with an open mind. It’s sort of like listening to a song covered by two different artists. The notes may be the same, but the feel, the energy, and the interpretations create different end products that each fully stand on their own merits. It just goes to show that every artist has their own take on an idea, and the very differences in tastes, experiences, and happy accidents shade the outcome. It truly shows the power of small details.

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