Boulder Dash Review

Help Rockford collect the diamonds and escape the dangerous caves alive.

Story

Rockford is a brave prospector and he’s now in a cave to collect diamonds. Once he has got enough, he must get out alive. This proves to be more difficult than he thought as all kinds of hazards and dangers are present; falling rocks, fireflies and underground amoeba.

The Game

Boulder Dash is a fun, and strangely exciting puzzle strategy game. You play as Rockford and you explore different caves and underground areas. The game is very simple and logical. You must search for diamonds and get out – each cave requires you to find a set number of diamonds and once you’ve got them the exit will open up allowing you entrance to the next level. Thanks to this humble design the game really is approachable by a wide range of people.

Content

In order to be able to move in the cave Rockford must dig away dirt that is in his way. The typical cave has rocks and loads of them. When you dig under rocks you must be careful not to be crushed by falling boulders. The game presents many puzzles and problems that you must solve in order to reach those precious diamonds. Pushing rocks out of the way is only the beginning.

There are three types of enemies in Boulder Dash – the fireflies which magically turn into diamonds when crushed by a rock, the hypnotic squares which aimlessly travel the caves and the amoeba that constantly is growing larger. The amoeba is not as common as the other two and is not directly deadly to Rockford – it will not kill you if you come near it like the other enemies do. However it will kill both fireflies and hypnotic squares on touch. So sometimes you must lure enemies into the growing amoeba to get rid of them.boulder_dash_2

Other caves will have brick walls blocking your way. These can be destroyed if you manage to crush an enemy with a rock near the wall – the explosion will punch a hole in the wall. Some caves will have a magic wall that turns rocks into diamonds when they fall through it.

Combining these few elements in various ways presents the basic concept of Boulder Dash. The player is encouraged to use logic and try different methods to clear each level. The game might look childish because of it simplistic graphics, but it really is quite challenging even for experienced players. The harder, more complex caves will need many tries before they can be figured out, and other caves seem totally impossible. This is the biggest problem with Boulder Dash – the difficulty level varies too much from cave to cave.

You start off with three lives and out of the sixteen caves you can select four of them as your starting cave. This basically means that even if you can’t solve a single cave you’ll still be able to at least play four of them. There are also five different difficulty levels to choose from. The higher difficulty levels means that you have less time and that the game runs faster.

There’s also a two player mode but it isn’t anything special. You just take turns playing the game. I think Boulder Dash works as a party-game – it’s fun to play, fun to watch and it’s social in that observers tend to try to help the player. Last but not least the game has a high-score feature, which displays the highest score compared to the last score on the title screen.

Boulder Dash has a perfect balance between being easy to pick up and play and it’s fun to master the more obscure techniques and to develop your own strategies. The game seems to push the C64’s hardware as the game slows down as its underlying game engine has to calculate many things at the same time – for example having two or more huge rock slides occur at the same time would slow the game down. This drawback also means that you get more time to think about your next move, so you could say that the developers solved this problem in a very good way.

Boulder Dash is available on many different platforms, and they all vary widely in looks but generally the game concept is the exact same. A funny note about this game, is that it’s one of the few home computer games that has been converted to arcade machines (and not the other way around).

Controls

The game requires you to have a high precision controller – something that will define your intended actions very clearly. I have tried joysticks and ordinary controllers (with d-pads) and I’d say that you stand a better chance with a joystick especially if it’s a good one – you’ll need to make precise movements in a split second in order to survive some situations. Playing with analog interpolation is, in my experience, hopeless.

You’ll notice that the game runs at a set speed and this means that your inputs are only registered at that pace. Pulling the stick too early will either do nothing or cause you to make a false move. This definitely takes some time to get used to.

Graphics

Seeing the game for the first time I didn’t quite know what to make of it. It looked so primitive and boring. The colors seem to make no sense and there’s lots of palette swapping going on. The sprites are very inartistic – a perfect example of “programmer art”?
However once you get used to it and begin to recognize the various elements of the game, it becomes clear that flashy graphics isn’t needed here. Rather, it’s more important to be able to identify what’s going on in any given situation and that, at least, is provided.

Sound

The sound in the game is cute. It’s not very good but it’s cute. The theme song is an instant inarguable classic while the sound effects are pretty standard. You’ll hear Rockford’s footsteps, boulders come crashing down and diamonds that make a distinct sound when they fall against the ground etc. Being able to hear these sounds often give you a hint on whats happening around you off-screen, which is a cool and needed extra help.

Summary

If you can handle the crazy varying difficulty levels of Boulder Dash and if you like this kind of arcade puzzle games, I’d say that there aren’t many choices that are as solid as Boulder Dash. The one thing that would make this game better would be more (and easier) caves, but there are sequels so I guess we’re fine with that.
Boulder Dash is a game that anyone can pick up and have a go at. Chances are that those that do, will have a good and unforgettable time!

Developed By: First Star Software
Published By: Prism Leisure Corporation
Version Reviewed: Commodore 64
Genre: Puzzle / Maze
Players: 1-2 (Taking Turns)
Also Available On: Amiga 500, Atari ST, Arcade, NES
Released: 1984
Website: http://www.firststarsoftware.com/boulderdash.htm

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