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Boulder Dash-XL (Xbox 360) artwork

Boulder Dash-XL (Xbox 360) review


"Some stages have a strict time limit, forcing you to sprint from gem to gem while hoping your speed can keep you out of the way of all those boulders you're dislodging as you wildly progress. Others are designed to make you think a little bit by giving you doors to unlock, one-way doors and warps; while placing you in a more maze-like environment. You might have a bit more time to reach the exit, but you'll have to make good use of it in order to figure out how to snare all the gems."



One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how addictive some of those old games that logically should be considered obsolete still can be. In today's age of massive worlds, movie-like cinema scenes and characters that come close to resembling real people, you wouldn't think a person could get too much enjoyment out of controlling a goofy looking robot through a series of caves while collecting diamonds and avoiding monsters and the ever-present hazard of being crushed by falling rocks.

That's all you got from Boulder Dash back in the mid-80s when it was first released and that's all you get from its XBox Live Arcade reboot, Boulder Dash-XL. There's no story, no fancy cinema and no expansive worlds (as the largest levels are only a handful of screens in size). Instead, you'll find an addictive game that delivers both cerebral challenges and pulse-pounding action.

The concept, as in most old-school games, is simple. You control a robot who is mining a bunch of caves to obtain the jewels secreted within. You have a certain amount of time (which fluctuates from level to level) to collect enough jewels to unlock the exit. Making this task easier said than done are a number of obstacles. Most common are boulders. As you burrow through the dirt and take the gems, you'll shake them loose, causing them to fall. If one lands on your character, you'll be starting that level from the beginning. Complicating things are a number of monsters. Some just wander back-and-forth along a set path, while others move more freely. With good timing, it's easy to take these obstacles out with a boulder. With bad timing, you'll find yourself blundering into the path of one of those boulders.

That's a fate you'll meet quite often during the 100 levels of Boulder Dash-XL's Arcade Mode. Some stages have a strict time limit, forcing you to sprint from gem to gem while hoping your speed can keep you out of the way of all those boulders you're dislodging as you wildly progress. Others are designed to make you think a little bit by giving you doors to unlock, one-way doors and warps; while placing you in a more maze-like environment. You might have a bit more time to reach the exit, but you'll have to make good use of it in order to figure out how to snare all the gems. While you might only need to grab 30 of 40 to unlock the exit, there is a 50 grand point bonus for getting all of them and each monster crushed is worth 5000 each, so if you're playing for points, it pays to learn all the tricks of each stage.

The Arcade Mode is only one of five in Boulder Dash-XL. If you want to master any already-completed level without the added stress of a clock ticking away the seconds, you can play Zen Mode. Puzzle Mode gives you 25 small levels where the only goal is to collect ALL the gems and reach the exit. While those levels might be tiny and free of monsters, that doesn't make them easy, as you usually have no margin to commit even the tiniest of missteps. Score Mode allows you to play one of four vast stages simply to get as many points as possible within the time limit. And for people who remember the old Commodore 64 version of this game, there's Retro Mode, which combines 8-bit graphics with the uncompromising difficulty you'd expect from a game that came out in 1984. I knew I was in for an ordeal when the very first level was large by this game's standards and had enough boulders to crush me a million times over. Which was followed by a sprint where I had to collect 130 gems and get out in 90 seconds. Stressful stuff, there!

Boulder Dash-XL is quite the enjoyable diversion, but it's hard for me to praise it as much more than that. When you add the various modes together, there's over 150 levels with a good bit of replay value as you'll always be looking for ways to improve your score. Still, there easily could have been more. I found it disappointing there was no level creation mode. This seems like the sort of game that would be a perfect fit for something like that, as its enjoyability is tied to its simplicity, making it reasonably simple for a skilled gamer to create decent challenges. Having 150-plus levels is nice -- having a near-infinite number would have been great. Also, if you're like me and had a level (or many, many more) that took a LOT of tries to complete, you probably got very sick of the crude, robotic "3...2...1" countdown that opens each attempt to clear a stage. It didn't take long for that to go from cute and nostalgic to reminding me of fingernails on a chalkboard.

It would have been nice for there to have been more to Boulder Dash-XL, but for $10, you get a good amount of value with a lot of levels spread through multiple modes of play. It might be a game I barely play a few months down the road, but it's been hard to put down for any notable amount of time during the initial days after I obtained it.

Rating: 8/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (July 24, 2011)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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honestgamer posted July 24, 2011:

Nice review, Rob. You did a good job of covering the game's multiple modes without letting it dominate or detract from the flow of the review, and you made it easy to imagine how the game might play out. Sounds like a nice update to an old classic.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted July 27, 2011:

Sweet review, dude. I've been wanting to revisit Boulder Dash, but I may have to give this one a look.
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overdrive posted July 29, 2011:

Joe
If you want to revisit Boulder Dash, this would be the perfect game to pick up. It has the retro version and a crapload of new levels, so it'd be the perfect thing for you.

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