Boulder Dash remains one of the best games of all time. I’m not even saying that from an I-love-retro point of view, because I actually don’t much care for Boulder Dash, and have never really liked this kind of obstacle-avoiding grid-based game. No, Boulder Dash did, in it’s own way, influence the direction of gaming.
It’s a rather grandiose statement, but you could see Boulder Dash as a very early forerunner to sandbox titles. Unlike so many other games at the time that relied either on quick reactions or an extensive knowledge of enemy patterns or maps, Boulder Dash forced the player to improvise and develop strategy on the fly. The game itself is very easy, but doing it quickly and tidily is very, very hard.
On the surface, it’s a title that can be learned by rote and executed to perfection, but the variables involved are too numerous to make that a viable option to most players. This is a game that rewards clever, and quick, improvisation with a genuine reward. In that respect, nothing has changed with this version, Boulder Dash XL. Troublingly, however, this isn’t one of the better versions I’ve ever played.
So, what is Boulder Dash? Well, you can probably work it out from the screenshots, as it’s a title that spawned more than a few copycats. You take control of one of two characters, Rockford or Crystal, and collect diamonds. Easy, right? The game is split into caves, with progress to the next blocked before you can collect a requisite number of diamonds. It’s all pretty simple stuff so far, but the concept hinges on the addition of traps and baddies strewn around the place.
The simplest of the traps is falling rocks, while the enemies get progressively more difficult to predict, and add those all-important variables to the mix. As a game, in and of itself – and discounting the impact it’s had on the industry – I find it difficult to believe that it’s going to see too much interest. We’ve had so many of these, and yes, while it’s nice to play the original, there are 17 different versions out there, making you feel like this has had every drop of life squeezed from it.
Despite the fact that this is pretty much a carbon copy of the original, but with swankier graphics, there’s too much wrong here to make it really worth ranting about. First off, in moving to the 360 controller, Boulder Dash XL loses something. It’s fiddly as hell to control on the sticks, and the D-pad is frankly awful at the best of times. This, while seemingly niggly, is the biggest issue I have, and something that really doesn’t allow you to enjoy this retro classic.
The second, and probably last major fault with the game, is that it’s too damn ugly. Granted, the charm of the original was debatable from a graphical point of view, but one does expect a certain degree of visual quality for your 800 points. This is perhaps a point that could be argued against, but the net result for me is not only an ugly game, but one that doesn’t really allow you to make sense of what’s going on. As a result, you lose many of the faculties that allow you to make quick judgements, and improvisations.
So, certainly from my point of view, what you have here is something that doesn’t really win on either the retro count or the restyling count, leaving it somewhat impotent up against some seriously good 800-point competition. There’s a retro mode, which is a nice, if slightly jarring addition – because the current gen animation just doesn’t go with the 8-bit look of the piece – and the various other modes certainly add some longevity if you get into it. But the truth is who is going to get into it?
For 800 points I want something fresh. Something like Pac Man Championship Edition, or one of the stella remakes of Space Invaders. While nice for a rose-tinted retro hit, this doesn’t really offer enough to bring you back to Boulder Dash. At worst it’s a cynical cash-in from First Star Software, and at best it’s a title that doesn’t have enough meat on its bones to outshine the numerous classic titles currently on offer for the price. Still, perhaps with the 18th iteration, they might get it right.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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