I’ve been writing Woodgrain Wonderland for almost two years and have enjoyed it immensely. Although my “marketing” – if you can call it that – of the blog has touted the 2600 pretty obviously, in truth I’ve always viewed the VCS as a familiar entry point into the bigger world of the pre-NES era of video games. As this ongoing 2600 review project starts to wind up, I hope to tackle a broader range of the pre-1985 world of gaming.
The past two years have not been without a certain learning curve. I was almost exclusively a home gamer as a kid. A number of logistical, parental and financial factors conspired to keep me out of the arcade most of the time, which meant I missed out on a lot of great games – or at least the best versions of those games. I’ve been playing catch-up ever since, getting what I could out of classic game collections for modern consoles and, more recently, a certain – um – code preservation program.
One of those great games was Mr. Do! Considered by some to be a Dig Dug ripoff, the 1982 Universal arcade game adds a couple of extra gameplay elements which make it so much more. Although it’s kind of been lost to time, those who remember and love Mr. Do! tend to like it a lot, and one thing most fans seem to have in common is a dislike for Coleco’s port of the game for the Atari 2600.
However, I try very hard not to let general consensus cloud my reviews and to me VCS Do! seemed just fine. In fact, I gave it a B+ and – going on nothing more than a video of the coin-op on YouTube – proceeded to call it an “underrated arcade port” and an “admirable adaptation.” My enthusiasm came from a genuine place; I had a LOT of fun playing Mr. Do! on the VCS. The problem is I didn’t have anything to compare it to.
The arcade game
I have since played the arcade Mr. Do! and it’s a pretty freakin’ awesome game that easily leaves the 2600 cart in the dust. It’s a delightful tale about a clown and his garden. You can win a screen in Mr. Do! in two ways: killing all the enemy Creeps or collecting all the cherries, which are placed in either two-by-four or four-by-two groupings of eight. Collecting all eight cherries in a row nets the player 500 points.
You can kill the Creeps three ways: with your power ball (best done in relatively close quarters so it can bounce back to you right away) or crushing them by either pushing large apples onto them or causing them to fall – Dig Dug style – while the Creeps are underneath you. Killing Creeps with your power ball nets 500 points while dropping apples gives you 1,000 points per wasted Creep.
There’s a special mode you can activate by collecting a dessert in the middle of the screen. This causes any unplowed parts of the garden to turn dark red and any Creep on screen to freeze, giving you a chance to murder them while they’re down. However, in this mode you’re also pursued by Cookie Monster-looking MFers. These guys move really fast, with your ball and apples only serving to stall them. It’s a nice case of choosing the lesser of two evils.
The 2600 game
VCS Mr. Do is comparable in some ways to 2600 Pac-Man: most of the fundamental elements are intact – if often interpretive – and if a player didn’t know any better both can be perfectly enjoyable games. The most frustrating thing about 2600 Do! is that you have no tunneling strategy. The key to both Mr. Do! (and Dig Dug for that matter) is strategic digging in order to either keep the enemies separated or corral them so you can take out a whack of bad guys with a well-placed apple. The arcade game features small lengths of earth in between tunnels which allow these tactics; the Atari 2600 port has no such thing. Worse yet, you can’t stand underneath an apple and wait to put the drop on a Creep; you have to get out of the way immediately or be crushed to death yourself.
2600 Do! does not feature the Cookie Monster mode (sorry – I can’t find their official names). Instead, Creeps turn into Cookie Monsters at random. This doesn’t bother me so much, but I prefer the coin-op treatment. Bottom line: rather than being an “admirable adaptation,” 2600 Do! is vastly inferior to the original.
So should I go back and change my letter grade for Mr. Do!? That is something I prefer not to do because I consider my letter grade representative of my first impressions of a game, and in Mr. Do!’s case they were very positive.
The Pac-Man comparison is apt. People defend VCS Pac-Man to this day on the grounds that it’s “still fun.” I can believe that, especially if it was your first exposure to the Pac-Man franchise. In Mr. Do!’s case, it’s only exposure to the superior product that causes a distaste for the port. Is it best, especially for the era of video games in question, to just toss comparisons to the arcade games aside and only consider the fun factor? Or do we hold Coleco’s feet to the fire and say “You had the license for Mr. Do!, you marketed the game as Mr. Do!, but you didn’t give us Mr. Do!”?
That’s something I’ll consider for the future. In the meantime, I’ll probably attach a small disclaimer to my Mr. Do! review and otherwise leave it alone, although I’m open to further discussion on the matter.
(Note: This entry received some minor editing on September 11, 2018 for clarity.)