Boulder Dash XL Xbox 360
The ’80s were a great time to be alive: fantastic music, fabulous fashions, and the video games were pretty damned awesome too. I have many fond memories of the games of that era, sitting patiently whilst they loaded from audio tape on to my beloved Commodore 64. And then hours of fun with the simplest of games, by today’s standards. Such good times. I’m always on the lookout for some of those old games getting a re-release or revamp, so was pleasantly surprised to see a new incarnation of an old favourite in Boulder Dash XL.
If you’ve never come across one of the many instalments in the series over its 27 year history then the premise is simple. Run around a series of caves and collect a set number of gems within a time limit to open the exit. It would be a piece of cake if it wasn’t for all the falling rocks that can crush or trap you, not to mention all the nasties that inhabit the caves. It’s all pretty straightforward, but there’s one very important rule you have to remember: rocks will fall if not supported properly. A bit of earth underneath will hold one up, but a rock on top of another rock will just roll off if there’s room to either side. And gems act exactly the same as rocks, apart from not inflicting death when they land on you.
One wrong move and you could find yourself crushed – or more frustratingly trapped – by an avalanche of rocks. You’ll have to think fast to stay ahead of the rockslide and all the nasties, just like it’s always been. But there’s been some changes and additions made for the modern gamer. When it comes to the additions it’s pretty much more of everything: more nasties, more levels, more game modes. One addition that is completely new to the series are special powers for the game’s heroes Rockford and Crystal. Maybe that’s why they’ve turned them into robots, it makes telescopic arms and super speed easier to explain.
You get other power-ups too, extra time and health always come in handy. There’s also several interactive objects dotted around the caves to make things easier, or harder. Dynamite and detonators crop up now and again and come in very efficient for clearing a route, or freeing trapped gems. You’ll find mechanisms that turn rocks in to gems, and vice versa.
These new aspects are definite improvements, however some other changes are perhaps not for the better. Rockford and Crystal now have life bars – ironic as they are now not actually alive. What this means is that not all the nasties are fatal now; some still are, but the majority just take a bit of your life bar. This coupled with falling gems no longer being dangerous makes for a more forgiving game, which I’m sure some people will think is good, but I’m not so sure. One of the great things about the original games is how the feeling of peril fuels the game’s pace – you had to act fast, and think even faster. This new version retains some of that, enough not to ruin everything, but feels more sedate than it used to.
Level design seems to have taken a hit as well. There’s moments where it’s still as good as it used to be, but on the whole caves seem less puzzle orientated than they used to. Maybe it’s because there’s so many levels they didn’t work on the design of each so hard. Maybe it’s because they made a puzzle mode and they wanted to put most of the puzzle stuff in that, I don’t know. To counter the more forgiving – or easier, depending on how you want to look at it – nature of the game time limits have been tightened up. This makes sure the game is still challenging, but the challenge is more based on speed than skill than before.
The developers made a wise move though, seemingly anticipating older gamers slight disappointment with the changes they’ve made they added something to make us happy – retro mode. Yes, you can play the game as it was originally, with 25 levels lifted from the original games. It’s retro heaven and a lot more challenging than the updated game, but it’s as infuriatingly addictive as it always was. It also serves as a reminder of how easy today’s gamers have it compared to back then.
They’ve put together a pretty complete package here. Fans of the original games are well catered for with retro mode, and arcade and puzzle modes should keep the less hardcore pretty happy. Throw in zen mode, with no time limits, and time challenge to add extra longevity to a game already overflowing with content, and you are definitely getting good value for money. Boulder Dash XL is highly recommended for anybody who likes their arcade games with a puzzle element, young or old alike.