*Review based on Digger T. Rock’s release as part of Rare Replay*
1990’s Digger T. Rock holds a special place in Rare’s history, being the first game developed by the studio once they were re-branded as Rareware (though Solar Jetman was published by them earlier that same year, its development was handled by a separate team of developers). Though many of Rare’s library from the 1990s on Nintendo’s platforms are remembered as classics, Digger T. Rock – despite its placement in Rare’s history – has a little more mixed of a reception. Playing it today, it’s not too hard to see why. Though it’s definitely aged better than the ZX Spectrum-era Rare titles, Digger T. Rock still has a number of dated elements that hold back the overall experience.
In Digger T. Rock, players take control of a spelunking adventurer (who bares the same moniker as the game’s title), who’s traversing a series of caves collecting treasures, all while in search of “The Lost City.”
There are eight caves (stages) total, with the goal simply being to find the exit to the next stage. But there’s a catch to this scenario. In perhaps a bit of inspiration from Rare’s previous Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll, the player must unlock the exit by standing on a special pillar, which will temporarily open the exit. If the player can navigate the cave and make it to the exit in time, they can move on, with extra points being awarded for treasures collected, and for how fast you can make it to the exit after standing on the aforementioned pillar.
Additionally, Digger can use his shovel to attack enemies and create new pathways. Power-ups also lend a helping hand; such as ladders that can connect higher and lower areas, dynamite which is used to blow apart rocky walls, and throwing rocks as an additional weapon against foes.
This all sounds like decent fun, and I suppose in essence, it is. But there are too many elements at play that prevent it from being the Rare classic it could have been.
For starters, Digger T. Rock is an incredibly difficult game, and yet only gives the player only three lives to start with. Should you lose all three, it’s back to the beginning of the game. With how frequently you’ll be falling, getting crushed by rocks. Not to mention certain enemies – as well as your own dynamite – can deplete almost all of your health in one hit. For a game this difficult, a few extra lives or a password system would have gone a long way.
Another aspect that contributes to the game’s difficulty is the overall sense of control. Obviously, being an NES game, there was only so much to work with. But flipping through your different secondary items with one button, and using them with the attack button can become tedious, not to mention hectic during situations when you’re being swarmed by enemies. Then there’s the jumping, which feels a little stiff; and Digger’s general walking speed, which is much too slow when you need to get away from your suspiciously short-fused dynamite.
The steep difficulty and less-than-ideal controls do feel like products of their time, but there is still some fun to be had with Digger T. Rock. Finding and collecting treasure, and discovering secret warp zones provide a good sense of fun, as does the music by David Wise.
Digger T. Rock certainly isn’t a bad game, but it is one that has succumbed to age. And after R.C. Pro-Am, Cobra Triangle and Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll, Digger T. Rock feels like a step down for Rare’s NES output, despite its merits.