Don’t you love it when you find a happy little bonus; something unexpected on top of something you already like?
I encountered one of my own this week. I’ve been following a bunch of Japanese and Korean erotic artists on Twitter recently — partly to satisfy my bottomless libido and partly to drown out the endless negativity of Western Twitter — and I was delighted to discover that one of them is not only into drawing pretty girls flashing their pants at you (NSFW, obviously), but also into making loving homages to retro-style games.
That artist’s name? Albe– wait, no, that’s something else. That artist’s name is @ryokuchamichi, also known as “Green Tea Area”, and the first of their games I’d like to share with you is Dig Dig Mine, which you can snag your own copy of for a mere ¥200 (about $2) over on Booth, a Pixiv offshoot focusing on independently developed digital art of various forms — including video games.
Dig Dig Mine is, at the time of writing, one of two homages to the NES era that Green Tea Area (as we shall refer to them hereafter) has posted on Booth. It’s a straightforward, “endless” game that simply requires you to get as far as possible in a never-ending mine filled with patterned blocks.
The main mechanic of Dig Dig Mine is based on the classic SameGame/Chain Shot! formula, in which groups of blocks with the same pattern that are touching one another orthogonally can be removed by touching one of them.
The twist on how SameGame and its myriad imitators do things is in the fact that you’re not observing the “puzzle” from an omniscient perspective and simply clicking on groups to remove them; rather, you take control of an adorable little 16×16 pixel explorer and have to actually move up to the blocks you want to remove and press a button to remove them.
This is important, because not only are you trying to dig a path through the mine, you need to avoid hazards to ensure your spelunking doesn’t come to a premature end. Specifically, you need to deal with two different types of bomb: static ones, and moving ones, which home in on your position but which are too stupid to find routes around blocks in their way.
Revealing a bomb causes a flashing telegraph to appear indicating where the bomb’s blast will hit. This operates on line-of-sight rules, but there’s no maximum range on it; in other words, you’ll need to put at least one block between you and the bomb in order to avoid getting splattered across the nearest wall. Succeed, and the bomb explodes, awarding you some points — which increase substantially if you’re brave enough to trigger more than one bomb at once — while failure will cost you one of your three lives.
On top of that, you need to deal with a perpetually declining hunger level as you dig; let this run out and, again, you’ll lose one of your three lives. Fortunately, restoring it is a simple matter; concealed throughout the mine are numerous food items that you can collect to both satiate your bodily needs and score yourself some points. And, much like surviving multiple bomb blasts at once scores you exponentially more points, so too does grabbing multiple food items in rapid succession — think how Pac-Man rewards you for munching multiple ghosts one after the other.
There is, of course, a catch; both the bombs and the food items are concealed within the blocks that make up the mine. As you explore, you’ll have an idea where something is hidden because it’ll be marked with an exclamation point. However, you won’t know what is hidden until you break open that exclamation mark and any blocks attached to it, at which point you may find yourself suddenly having to flee for your life having revealed a bomb.
In this way, Dig Dig Mine strikes an excellent balance of risk and reward — an essential component of classic, score-based arcade games from the period of gaming history that it is paying homage to. In order to score the most possible points, you’ll need to take some chances — and think quickly to get yourself out of trouble — rather than playing it safe, because if you take too long over your digging, you’ll starve to death.
Incentive to progress is provided by the fact that every hundred “metres” in the mine is marked by a boundary of star markers which, when touched, destroy all the blocks behind you and effectively start a new “level”, complete with new music and new block designs. It’s tricky to judge conclusively due to the completely randomised nature of the levels, but on several occasions it’s also felt like there’s a slight tweak to the balance between how likely it is you find a bomb or an item of food with each new area you reach. This may be just confirmation bias talking, though if it actually is the case it provides an interesting little twist on the basic mechanics.
One of the most remarkable things about Dig Dig Mine is that this gradual “progression” provides a wide variety of authentic-sounding chiptune musical tracks and tile designs for you to discover as you get better at the game, yet the whole thing fits into just 8.5MB uncompressed. This, of course, would be astronomically huge for an actual NES game, but these days when you’re lucky to get away with a simplistic (and probably microtransaction-riddled) mobile game weighing in at less than a hundred meg, seeing such a complete-feeling package squeezed into such a compact amount of storage space is rather pleasing. Particularly when it costs less than a latte from your local petrol station, doesn’t demand you connect to the Internet every fifteen seconds and doesn’t ask for any more money after you’ve started playing.
Dig Dig Mine is a wonderful reminder of simpler times in gaming, when you could just pick up and play a game for a few minutes, have a wonderful time, then put it down and go and do something else. Its short-form gameplay and simplistic mechanics make it an ideal palate-cleanser between more substantial experiences, and its loving homage to the classic NES era through its visuals, sound and overall design is enough to make the more nostalgic among us weak at the knees.
I came across Dig Dig Mine completely by chance as I happened to be looking at Twitter at just the right moment. Based on the quality of this game, though, Green Tea Area’s work deserves a much wider audience; I suspect they’re one of many independent game developers working in almost complete obscurity, and that’s an unfortunate — if somewhat inevitable — side-effect of how easy it is for people to share and sell their work these days.
Still, I’ve done my bit now; if you have a couple of hundred yen (or equivalent) burning a hole in your pocket and you’re in the mood for some no-strings fun, support a hard-working independent artist today and give Dig Dig Mine a go for yourself.
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Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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