In recent years, Namco’s seminal Dig Dug has found itself branded as being far easier than other games of the era. I can see how this line of thought came about. Unlike Pac-Man and similar maze games, Dig Dug’s hero isn’t restricted to pre-set paths, instead free to tunnel anywhere. The burstable enemies are more docile than Pac-Man’s ghosts, too. If you share this sentiment, Murtop will be of interest – it’s a new take on Namco’s classic that features a bomb-dropping mechanic, piling on additional pressure.
Unsurprisingly, then, it’s more challenging. The learning curve comes almost solely from bomb dropping – inviting comparisons with Bomberman – with said explosives seemingly squeezed from our bunny protagonist’s behind. It takes a while to acclimatise to the blast radius, detonation times, and the behaviour of the pesky moles out to snatch Murtop’s carrots.
Once all enemies are defeated, the next level commences – each featuring new soil colour schemes and one of five jaunty musical arrangements.
After a few trial runs, Murtop eventually clicks – that learning curve is mercifully gradual. It isn’t long however until a new enemy type is introduced, stalking the top of the screen. They usher a boulder onto the playing field which duly rolls through your tunnels, proving tricky to escape. It isn’t all take, fortunately – bonus rounds are eventually introduced, where Murti must collect falling carrots and avoid bombs. The first rounds few are simple, but later the bombs are more bountiful.
It’s also around this point that things take a slight nosedive. Once the number of enemies increases and the boulder-lobbing rodent is introduced, the screen is often quickly reduced to a black void; an empty space where enemies once patrolled their alcoves. With no soil or tunnels to speak of, some control is lost – you’re simply left to traverse black space while dropping bombs. A lot of screens end this way after approaching stage thirty onwards.
As the enemy quota increases it also becomes a lot easier to obtain score-boosting 4X combos – catching multiple enemies in a single blast – resulting in this mechanic losing some luster.
The extra features are all appropriate and befitting, helping to mimic the look and feel of an arcade game circa 1983. There’s a TATE mode, CRT filter, a pixel perfect mode, plus modern extras such as a choice of borders. There’s no online leaderboard though, which reduces the replay value. I don’t think anyone will find the £4.99 asking price misjudged – it’s transparent with what it can offer, and if you go for a 256-screen run, you’ll get more than your money’s worth.
Potentially seeing every screen isn’t the impossible task it may sound. Far from it, as Murtop grants infinite continues. You just need time and dedication. Once in the swing of things (or ‘in the zone’ if you prefer) you may find yourself clearing several screens in quick succession, only for that progress to be halted by a surprise increase in difficulty. There’s quite a bit here to catch you off guard.
Despite a few shortcomings, Murtop is still a worthy addition to Fynn’s Arcade’s portfolio, complimenting the excellent Donut Dodo. It’s an experience a hair’s breadth away from brilliance; one that most retro gamers will likely ‘dig’.
Published by Flynn’s Arcade and developed by Hiulit, Murtop is out May 18th on PC and Switch.