Kalypso Media bring this ancient miner to a modern console.
Time changes everything. After some 25+ years of mining, the hero of Boulder Dash has evolved into a robot for this latest outing. In fact, the whole game has evolved in some ways, and perhaps not for the best. Still, it is time to do some mining and the Arcade mode is screaming out to be played.
In the most basic manner, Rockford can move up, down, left and right through the maze-like mines, coming up against rock through which he can mine and rock through which he can’t. This indestructible rock offers one of the games challenges, in that it is all to easy for a hasty player to find themselves trapped between a rock and, well, another rock.
Another challenge comes from gravity. Although the game board may look like a top-down maze and Rockford may move through as if it were so, it is actually a side-on view and, if the path is clear, boulders and diamonds can fall from the top to the bottom, causing damage to anything that gets in the way. This could be one of the various enemies that Rockford encounters through the mines, or even Rockford himself. There are quite a variety of different enemies in the game, especially compared to the original titles. Whilst none of them provide an insurmountable threat, in fact some can even be helpful, they all are deadly if come into contact with, and they all make the challenge of time even more difficult.
Because it is time that is the biggest challenge in Boulder Dash XL. Players have to collect a certain number of the diamonds and get to the exit, but this is all against a timer. Whilst they will not necessarily be required to collect all of the gems in a given level, planning a route to the easier diamonds whilst avoiding enemies, gravity and getting trapped, will usually result in the more difficult levels being attempted more than once. With somewhere in the region of 100 levels in the arcade mode, and a wonky difficulty curve that sets easy levels straight after hard, there is a fair chunk of gameplay in this game. And that is without counting the other modes.
Variety in the gameplay comes from the inclusion of such elements as teleporters, locked doors and keys, and even a small selection of power-ups. Rockford also has a telescopic arm which can stretch out and move certain types of boulder or grab things from a distance. To players of the original games, this may all seem like too many bells and whistles. Thankfully, the devs have considered this and included something just for you.
Retro mode is 25 levels of pure, classic Boulder Dash action. With only a couple of enemies to worry about and none of these silly power-ups, success in retro mode feels much more deserved and reliant on skill. There is also a Puzzle mode which offers another 25 levels, this time with an emphasis on planning. These levels are generally much smaller and offer a real challenge that will have the player scratching their head. The Zen mode offers the levels from Arcade mode without the time limit, and the Score Attack mode offers some extra large levels with an emphasis on scoring high.
Boulder Dash XL is a lot of fun, especially as it is easy to pick up and play. But it is perhaps this easiness to play that causes the games biggest problem – repetition. The core gameplay remains the same throughout and the levels, especially in the Arcade mode, just don’t offer enough variety or challenge the player in any significant way. Some of the levels are very tricky, but success in those comes down more to timing than planning or skill. Of course, the puzzle levels are more entertaining, and the Retro levels offer their own charm.
Boulder Dash XL may not be the most challenging game ever, and it may suffer from a slight case of repetition. But the gameplay is solid and no-one can deny that 800MSPoints for more than 150 levels is a good deal. It is worth playing and a lot of fun, but by no means an essential purchase.