Dig, excavate, repeat. Such is the life of a mining robot – particularly the two known as Rockford and Crystal from Boulder Dash XL. A reboot of the classic puzzle series from years past, it takes us back to a time where basic but intelligent design led to a lot of unforgettable gaming moments. Despite being rich in content, the basic premise is simple: dig your way through a grid-based world, picking up as many diamonds as necessary to unlock the exit, while trying to avoid shifting deadly boulders which like to fall straight down or sometimes to the side. It sounds a lot easier than it is, trust me. Then again, what would a puzzle game be without challenge?
Upon paying the entrance fee of ten dollars, gamers can expect to get a ton of mining experience for their money. In fact, there are hours upon hours of content here, and that could just be said about its one hundred cave long arcade mode. In addition to that, there are a few other entertaining and time consuming modes, containing well over one hundred more stages combined. They include:
– Puzzle mode: Twenty-five caves full of well-thought out puzzles that really make you use your mind and the game’s mechanics to escape. There’s only one way out of the themed mining predicament that you’re in, so it’s important to think creatively while applying the principles of boulder movement gravity that the game employs. This mode gives you a good hour or more of gameplay, depending on skill and is arguably the best game type found within.
– Zen mode: Play through previously unlocked caves without the worry of the pesky time limit. In arcade mode, there’s always the worry of a time limit counting your dark and dingy stay away. If the timer runs out and your little robot avatar has yet to make it to the exit, then it’s game over with a forced restart on your horizon.
– Retro mode: Return to the series’ humble eight-bit beginnings as you excavate your way through the hardest caves found within this digital download. Back then, gaming was much harder than it is now, so the development team at Catnip Games made sure to ramp up the difficulty here. It’s a nice return to the roots of the experience but the fact that these aren’t maps from a previous game in the series is a bit disappointing, especially for long-time fans.
– Score mode: Specially designed puzzle caves feature strategically placed diamonds spread throughout. Try to get as many of them as you can before the time runs out. Instead of needing to be unlocked, the exit is almost always available, making it a score attack rush to see how many expensive rocks you can pick up in a short period of time.
Although this series has been around for years, I must admit that this is the first time I’ve ever taken on the role of Rockford the excavating robot. At least, to the best of my memory. Yet, the mechanics are so simple and welcoming that it was easy to jump right in and understand what to do. The puzzles start off relatively easy but get quite challenging after a while, becoming much more complex when new elements like teleporters, bombs and gates come into play. I found that this challenge was fair and never too difficult like some puzzle games tend to become after a while.
Controlling your robotic helper as he or she moves through the grid is quite simple. The left joystick controls almost all movement while the right joystick and A button factor in for special moves. The Achilles Heel of this type of game is its control, with precision being the difference between a reasonable defeat and an annoying one. One boulder can take a robot out with no questions asked, so it’s important to avoid any falling boulders that you may have purposefully or inadvertently disturbed.
Boulder Dash XL has a decent control scheme which is almost always responsive, but there were the odd moments where I had problems with it, getting stuck on something I didn’t mean to. It also failed to respond once at the start of a cave. These issues were not overly prevalent nor game-breaking, though it was a bit frustrating when they popped up. It’s certainly not a game for those quick to anger because, one wrong move can mean the end to a perfect run lasting up to three minutes long.
It’s the type of game where you need to be smart with your movements and abilities because it’s easy to get stuck under some tumbled environmental pieces with nowhere to go but the restart menu. That can also be said about how inputting too many commands can result in an unnecessary metallic explosion, as doing something like pushing the joystick a couple extra times could cause something to be moved farther than intended.
Other than those issues, I found that the game ran quite well. It’s not incredibly flashy though it’s certainly sound and full of content. Visually, it lacks inspiration opting for the comfort of revitalized sprites and retro eight-bit flavor instead of overly flashy high-definition. Though, for what it is, it looks decent with its three-dimensional grid design mixing with two-dimensional movement and puzzling. I just wish that it had some more personality and perhaps brighter caves, considering the fact that a lot of them tend to look quite dark despite having the flashlight at your side.
Boulder Dash XL lacks spoken dialogue, but it’s heavy on the retro inspired sound effects and original score. As you dig through each cave, different sounds will reflect the changing materials crumbling away, as well as the boulders and traps. Music aids in your quest by being a bit of a time indicator, along with visual overlays, but the soundtrack itself isn’t the most memorable. The overall sound design took on the robotic aspects of its main characters, with automated countdowns and associated sound effects. The sound of exploding metallic geniuses was a bit loud and muffled, startling me a couple of times.
For a low and very affordable investment, there’s a lot to like about this game. Though it’s very tried and true, this is the type of game that puzzle fans will eat up. Hours upon hours of content presents itself in increasingly perilous ways, always invoking in-depth thinking to avoid the challenge ahead (or above, in this case). The development team did a good job of paying homage to one of our industry’s classic hits, while adding some of their own flavor to it, although some mostly minor issues mar the experience a bit. If you’re looking for that new content-filled puzzle experience to sink your teeth into, Boulder Dash XL certainly should be on your menu.
Boulder Dash XL is a sound return to retro inspiration, with tons of content and many hours of enjoyable gameplay over several different modes.