Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Digger for the ColecoVision -- Reviewed!

Publisher: CollectorVision
Programmer: Mystery Man
1 player
During the early-to-mid 1980s,   and  inspired a number of tunnel-digging imitators, including Sega’s obscure Thunderground (1983) for the Atari 2600 and First Star Software’s popular Boulder Dash (1984) for a variety of consoles and computers. One of the more blatant copycats was Windmill Software’s Digger, a Canadian computer game developed by Rob Sleath in 1983 for the IBM PC.

Now, , publisher of such quality  ports as Bagman and Galaga, has brought Digger to everyone’s favorite Coleco console.

Guiding a motorized Digger Mobile around the screen, players tunnel underground to scoop up emeralds (similar to the cherries in Mr. Do!), creating mazes in the process. As you gather emeralds, little creatures called Nobbins will chase you through the maze pathways. Impatient Nobbins sometimes turn into Hobbins, which can burrow through maze walls (similar to the monsters in Mr. Do!). You can throw a rock bullet at the enemies (similar to the ball in Mr. Do!, but it doesn’t bounce around), but it takes a few seconds for the Digger Mobile to reload once a bullet has been fired.

Digger is clearly more of a Mr. Do! clone than a Dig Dug wannabe. This is especially evident regarding bags of gold that are positioned at various points around the screen. These are like the apples in Mr. Do! (as opposed to the rocks in Dig Dug) in that you can push them across the screen. And you can walk under the bags of gold to drop them on enemies, while making sure to get out of the way so you don’t get crushed. One thing that sets Digger apart from both of its more famous progenitors is that dropped bags break open to reveal gold that you can scoop up for extra points, a welcome feature.

Monsters in Digger spawn from the top/right corner of the screen. After you kill a certain number of monsters, a special prize cherry will appear in this area. If you grab the prize, you can turn the tables on the enemies for approximately 15 seconds (which decreases in later rounds of play). As such, the monsters will now run away from you, a la the ghosts in Pac-Man. The current level ends when you’ve grabbed all the emeralds or killed all the monsters, another nod to Mr. Do!

Unlike Mr. Do!, there are no letters spelling out EXTRA for an extra life. However, you do get an extra life for every 20,000 points you score.

Compared to the original Digger computer game, the ColecoVision port plays about the same, but there are some visual simplifications. The playfield for the ColecoVision game is colored with thick vertical stripes while the original has a more textured look with thin, wavy, and diagonal lines. The multi-colored Digger Mobile, Nobbins, and Hobbins of the computer semi-classic have been replaced by mono-colored versions of same, which once again evokes Mr. Do! as the arcade version had multi-colored characters while the ColecoVision port had mono-colored characters.

Like many video games, both versions of Digger make use of classic musical compositions. During the standard action, “Popcorn” by Gershon Kingsley plays. After you grab the bonus prize, you’ll hear Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell Overture.” When you get killed by a monster or squashed by a bag of gold, Frédéric Chopin’s “Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat Minor” (a.k.a. “The Funeral March”) will commemorate your death, complemented by a gravestone that rises from the ground.

Regarding sound effects, when you gather up emeralds in the ColecoVision port, it sounds exactly like picking cherries in the ColecoVision version of Mr. Do!

Overall, Digger is a cute, challenging game that sounds good and will entertain most any maze fan. It has solid controls, smooth difficulty progression, and a few differences (including altered enemy A.I.) that set it apart from similar games. Even though I’ve played a variety of tunnel-digging games countless times, I find myself playing Digger again and again to try and beat my high score.

Since Mr. Do! is readily available on the ColecoVision (it’s one of the more common post-launch titles and is only worth around $8 loose), Digger, which is packaged in an retro-style box with instruction manual, isn’t exactly a must-own for the system. However, collectors and diehard fans of the genre will want to hop online and grab a copy.

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