When the concept of Xbox Live Arcade was first outlined, the availability of old classic games was listed as one of the benefits of the new platform and developers weren’t slow at trotting out their old titles. As it expanded, the desire to update lead to the likes of the excellent Lode Runner as well as the Pac-Man CE and DX appearing, each of them bringing a fresh take on original ideas and concepts of a bygone era.
An update of the original ZX Spectrum Boulder Dash, XL adheres to the template of the original, charging the player to control Rockford (sadly not a relative of the 70′s detective Jim), or his better half Crystal. The aim is to collect a certain number of gems that are buried within a cave, while dodging falling rocks and various monsters against a strict time limit. Once a certain amount are collected the exit opens and its onto the next cave. It’s that classic one note idea that made many games of the time stand out and this was no exception in its day.
This update is naturally a more robust proposition as it encompasses additional modes to the one hundred levels that make up the Arcade portion of the game. In the original Boulder Dash, Rockford or Crystal could knock out a block of dirt without having to either move or uncover the corresponding item they’re standing beside and this is still the case in XL. It allows for a more tactical approach to levels, looking to chain gem collections by shifting a particular boulder out of the way, or creating a chain reaction in their favour using the surroundings to obliterate enemies secreted in tricky locations. The concession to modernity here is that characters have a life bar that depletes once contact is made with enemies, as opposed to the originals one hit kill, but doesn’t shield them from an avalanche of boulders.
As the player progresses through Arcade Mode the caves become more complex with time limits that go up to three minutes and the need to collect upwards of one hundred gems before the exit opens. In others the time limit is tighter, meaning that each move has to be calibrated perfectly to maximise both time and gem collection. To spice things up there are modifiers such as one way doors, or colour coded doors that require unlocking with keys placed in precarious areas. There’s even a speed-up power up that has either of our heroes zooming around at Benny Hill speeds, minus the scantily-clad lady chasing.
If all of this sounds basic that’s because it is, but it serves the game well. With only a few new mechanics to get to grips with, veterans and newcomers alike can hop in and start working their way through caves with little or no hardship. Sometimes a revamp of a system is required, but in the case of Boulder Dash XL it’s fine as it stands.
Those who still hanker for “purity” can indulge in a spot of time travel in the form of Retro Mode, which presents the original in all its two colour glory, complete with insta-death lurking around each and every corner. The Zen mode seems superfluous as it removes time limits, allowing players to meander through a cave uninhibited by a clock. Puzzle mode is by far the best addition in this reviewers opinion, set across twenty five caves of pure fiendish design with a mixture of solutions from the blindingly obvious to the hair-tearingly difficult. While it won’t take long to finish, timing and derring-do will be required and the accompanying sense of satisfaction is delightful.
While overlooked for its more flashy brethren on the service, Boulder Dash-XL is a fine update of an old title that is confident in what it offers, providing a fun experience with an excellent set of extra modes and many hours of entertainment. It proves that sometimes you can go back in time for inspiration without it becoming an excuse to wallow in the past.