Review: Boulder Dash-XL (Microsoft Xbox LIVE Arcade)

Boulder Dash-XL
Developer: Catnip Games
Publisher: Kalypso
Genre: Action Puzzler
Release Date: 07/13/2011

While most people my age grew up with an NES as their first system, my first exposure to owning video games came via my family’s Commodore 64. As such, seeing the name Boulder Dash pop up once again was not only a pleasant surprise, but a trip down memory lane. I honestly can’t say the title was one of my favorites, but there were certainly worse games you could pick out for the computer. Now that we are here 17 years later, it’s nice to see Catnip Games flesh out the concept into a better product, even though the title certainly won’t impress everyone.

Boulder Dash-XL places players in the role of Rockford (or his “female” companion), a mining robot tasked with digging up treasures from a number of caverns. Of course, this isn’t so easy. Rockford needs to contend with avalanches of boulders and a variety of critters and puzzling traps in order to succeed. There really isn’t much more to the story, but, as a classic remake, this simple premise is enough as Boulder Dash-XL picks up any story slack by giving players a chunk of ways to experience the game.

Not only can players tackle the game’s straightforward arcade mode (which, on its own, boasts 100 different levels), but the title also offers a more strategic puzzle mode, a high-risk high-reward score attack mode, a retro-influenced mode and a laid-back zen mode. Although the different modes offer up the same gameplay mechanics, the spread in the rule set makes each an attractive addition to the overall package. Anyone who was a fan of Boulder Dash to begin with will find a lot to love and this XL version goes beyond the typical Xbox LIVE Arcade remake to serve up a little more value than other retro offerings.

Getting into the game itself, the basics haven’t changed. It’s easy to think of the game as a rip-off of Dig Dug, but there is a little more involved with the gameplay. Much like in Dig Dug, Rockford can dig away at soft dirt and by digging loose boulders, he can make them fall or roll onto bothersome enemies. Boulder Dash-XL also implements elements of maze titles such as Pac-Man, though, requiring Rockford to pick up a required number of collectibles before the player is able to move on.

While the game begins innocently enough, the player is soon bombarded with multiple enemy types, trap doors that only allow one-way entry, teleporters, keys and locked doors, machines that turn boulders into diamonds (and vice versa if players aren’t careful) and more. Fortunately, players do receive some relief in the form of pick-ups that provide Rockford with increased moving speed, extra time and the ability to use a powerful arm extension to move heavy boulders.

The difficulty curve in Boulder Dash-XL isn’t shy about placing the player into sticky situations early in each game mode. Players should know the title isn’t the easiest, but the game’s retro goodness creates a satisfying feeling once players finally tackle a stage that has been giving them problems. Being crushed under a boulder is a common occurrence in the game, so controller chuckers may want to steer clear of this one.

Boulder Dash-XL features very simple controls due to its pedigree, mostly relying on players rushing Rockford through soft dirt to pick up as many diamonds as possible while avoiding enemies and falling boulders. However, at times, I did feel the controls weren’t as responsive as they should have been as I found myself missing a turn or moving where I didn’t want to among a cascade of boulders. Although the controls were satisfying overall, I died in this fashion more times than I would have liked. Still, the title is easy to pick and play, which reflects its retro heritage.

Putting all of the gameplay mechanics together with the span of modes, Boulder Dash-XL is an impressive gameplay package that will test a player’s retro mettle. Furthermore, the span of modes gives players a number of different ways to measure up to other players on the leaderboards, giving dedicated players even more of a reason to stick with the game. I’m one of those players that don’t like to quit a game until they beat a stage that has been giving them a bunch of grief, so it was easy for me to stick with the game for extended periods of time.

The title obviously shoots for those recognizing the name, but fans of action puzzlers may be able to find enjoyment in the title. Its challenge may chase away some potential players and the retro stylings may not satisfy gamers expecting a grand package, but Boulder Dash-XL will certainly find its audience and keep it happy. The formula is obviously borrowed and the package is a remake of an older title, so the originality isn’t the highest, but, again, those picking it up to enjoy some more of the same won’t be disappointed.

Unfortunately, the brighter mechanics of the game do not carry over into Boulder Dash-XL‘s presentation. The graphics are serviceable, but the character models aren’t as detailed as they could be and until players can adjust to some of the level skins and color schemes, the setup of the caves can be confusing at first (I ran into this in some of the puzzle levels). It also took me a few moments to distinguish what was going on in the retro mode, where the graphics retain the original “Ëœ80s look – give me a break … it’s been almost two decades since I’ve played this series.

The title doesn’t fare much better in the audio department, either. Many of the sound effects remind of the generic samples found in early online Adobe Flash or Shockwave games and the music and jingles get quite repetitive. Much like some of the earliest gaming classics, we remember such titles more for their gameplay than their graphics and sound effects and the same holds true for Boulder Dash-XL – if you can get pulled into the frantic gameplay, these facets can be overlooked much easier.

The Scores
Story/Modes: GOOD
Graphics: MEDIOCRE
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: VERY GOOD
Originality: BELOW AVERAGE
Addictiveness: ENJOYABLE
Appeal Factor: DECENT
Miscellaneous: ABOVE AVERAGE

Short Attention Span Summary

Boulder Dash-XL may be light on presentation, but its gameplay is just as captivating as it was in the “Ëœ80s. It’s hard to ignore the reliance on themes borrowed from other classic games such as Dig Dug and Pac-Man, but everything comes together to provide a frantic and challenging experience. This title will do the most for those that remember the franchise, but, all around, Catnip Games has delivered a competent action puzzler. Even though the challenge thickens up early on, the breadth of modes will give players plenty to come back to and those who enjoy a challenge will be glued to later levels until they are vanquished. While not a stellar title, Boulder Dash-XL tries to do more for retro remakes than just updating the graphics and the results are adequately satisfying.



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