Mining the depths.
Boulder Dash 30th Anniversary on PC
Without drifting completely into the arena of the gaming elderly, who else remembers when looting was fun for its own sake? Playing Boulder Dash 30th Anniversary is a little bit like that scene in Grosse Pointe Blank in which John Cusack’s neurotic hitman travels back to his childhood home, but where it once stood there now stands a mini-mart.
The likes of Destiny, Borderlands, recently even Rocket League, and myriad RPGs have permeated Boulder Dash’s simplistic design, and the once innocent loot-collecting frenzy is now infused with gear-gating. Only where Metroid would use this to funnel players’ exploration around a map, Boulder Dash just denies players a high score. Admittedly the central formula is in need of some sprucing – the clue is in the title, really – as it hasn’t changed in thirty years, but this is a lazy, unimaginative way of attempting to upset the gameplay.
Boulder Dash, as it once was, was an Amiga 400 and 800 game that took the Dig Dug idea of tunneling below the depths and infused it with a kleptomaniacal tinge, challenging players to pilfer as many gems as possible within a time limit. This doesn’t sound like much: it wasn’t, but the simplicity of allowing people’s greed to tempt them into risking failure to up their gem count was fiendish and ingenious. What’s more, it was all that was needed – greed was enough. That relic from the halcyon days of the arcade, the high score, was enough for folks to risk it all. The brand has been milked over the years, with sequels and re-releases not adding much at all, aside from new levels.
Boulder Dash: Rocks probably has the most to answer for here. The DS release attempted to cattle prod the old cadaver with Day-Glo visuals, gizmos, and boss battles – all of which make an appearance here. Abilities such as dynamite, freezing time, activating a score-doubling frenzy, and even a jet pack are all levered in to the game’s make-up, and they do a good job of injecting the old formula with some nice touches like freezing falling rocks, using dynamite to blow through walls, or giving yourself a time extend. There is, however, a twist: you may not have the loot necessary to purchase what you need. This forces you to move on to other levels, build up your loot, and return with the necessary gear if you want to achieve the maximum three stars of completion for each level – though perhaps, actually, you aren’t fussed. The trouble is that it’s very easy indeed to complete the levels with the minimum requirements, making progress feel fractured: either move on and feel as though you haven’t tried, or try to gain three stars and begin the unholy grind.
There’s little to keep you all that hooked with Boulder Dash 30th Anniversary. Retro apologists will no doubt shake their heads at the lost muddy brown visuals of yesteryear – especially given the half Minecraft, half Worms, half-hearted art style here – but really the gameplay is all there, just as it always has been. There is something compelling about it and as you make your way across the game’s different worlds, you will be presented with a tough challenge.
TapStar Interactive and First Star Software made a puzzling decision to bring this one from mobile over to PC, given the small commute-friendly size of each level and the simplistic design of play. It’s far more suited to life in someone’s pocket. There is a micro-transaction-shaped-hole in this game, and while that initially sounds quite nice, there isn’t ample support for its absence. Collecting loot becomes a mammoth undertaking, and when dynamite costs 25 gold bars and only 2 are awarded for a three-star level run it becomes clear that in order to get top marks, you’re going to be here for a while. Paying pennies for dynamite would speed up the process, but without the option, the grind closes in. This port brings with it a level editor, which is an interesting idea and perhaps for those with more patience and willing it will breathe some extra life into Boulder Dash – though it’s tough to imagine.
There is a clarity to proceedings that invokes the memory of a time when games were uncluttered with narrative baggage, when a single, simple idea was front and center, and gameplay spoke louder than all else. In that sense, playing Boulder Dash now is a nice little hook, and it will keep you entertained for a short while, but with irritating barriers to progress, and a lack of any depth or nuance, it will be a short while indeed.
Score: 2/5 – Poor