First Star Software
Xbox Live Arcade
13th July 2011
Boulder Dash may be a name that many gamers remember from back in the day, back then the game was a household name and featured on many of the systems at the time, over the years though the Boulder Dash name vanished into thin air.
This is where First Star Software, with the help of Kalypso Media, come into play as they have taken the old formula and have not only revamped the graphics to 3D but they have also have changed the way we will play in Boulder Dash-XL.
Game play 7/10
Anybody who has ever played a Boulder Dash game in the past will no doubt be familiar with how the game play works and to anybody who has never played a single Boulder Dash title, to put it in simple terms you have to create a path and get as many diamonds as you can do without being crushed by boulders or killed by enemies.
In fairness this title is pretty much just like the games from back in the late eighties and early nineties, all the core mechanics are still here but First Star Software have decided to bring the game up to modern standards. These new set of standards come in the form of certain power-ups that can be deployed in certain areas of the map or by Rockford the main character himself, or certain level changes like time warps and one way doors.
These help to give the game a little bit of a twist instead of just trying to figure out the best way to go without being crushed, but it would be wrong for you to think that this game will be an easy ride. In fact the game is anything but, the first few levels start off pretty simple as you get to learn the basics but as you progress further and unlock more levels you soon discover that each new set of levels brings a new set of complexity which will mean you will have to take your time and plan your route more carefully, even then you may still have some problems as enemies will tend to chase after you as your trying to find all of the diamonds to open up the exit door to the level.
This isn't the only thing though that changes as you progress through the game, the further you get the better the enemies become, instead of enemies that can easily be crushed by a well placed boulder, you get enemies that will hone in on your position or enemies that can lay traps around the cave to slow you down for other enemies to disband of you efficiently. As you can imagine this can really get pretty hectic in the later levels and with the added level changes things can get pretty rough for the player.
The game comes with five different game modes and each one is different from the last but even saying that some of those modes feel like they should have been left out, the five modes with a brief description of each are:
This is the mode that you will end up spending most of your time on, Arcade Mode comes with 100 caves to dig your way through, this mode will start by training you the basics and after every so often you will be given information on new elements that will be added to your next level and for the rest of the game.
Eventually you will get to the point in this mode that you will learn and experience everything that the game has to offer, and don't think this mode won't have much to offer you as I was still being taught about new enemies half way through the game.
This is a fun mode that adds a strategic element to the game as you normally have to think four to five moves a head of the move you want to take next. Again whilst this mode starts off really easy eventually the levels will get to the point that if you make one mistake you may have to start the level again.
Puzzle Mod contains 25 levels and whilst this number may seem quite small compared to that of Arcade mode, don't be fooled as you will be spending a lot of time figuring out the puzzles.
This mode is exactly the same as Arcade mode, it comes with all 100 caves but the only difference is that, any caves you completed in Arcade Mode are now unlocked in Zen Mode and you can replay the level in your own way without a time limit to constrain you. Sadly I felt this mode was unnecessary and tacked on.
This mode was a pretty fun mode as it was different from the others in a major way, this mode encourages the player to go and explore the huge caves and pick up as many diamonds as they possibly can do within the time limit allowed, there is not enough time to get all of the diamonds though so that is the catch to the mode.
Whilst you can try and focus all of your time on collecting as many diamonds as you can do, you are rewarded for also returning to the exit of the level in a quick time.
From what I could tell as sadly this was the mode I spent least time in it seemed that there was only four caves to explore each with an average time limit of around ninety seconds, meaning If you really wanted to explore the cave you had to be quick.
This was my least favourite mode of the game, whilst I appreciated that the developers tried to give the game a 3D retro look, I didn't feel like it paid off, added to the fact that the game plays just like how it did back in the games hey day, it meant that sometimes this mode felt more like a hindrance then a joy to play.
The grey scale of the levels didn't help to change my mind either as I thought it personally made the game look pretty ugly, they could of incorporate the 3D models but kept the background art the same as the rest of the game and it would of worked better then what was on offer here.
Overall though this mode will attract users as the caves here are designed specifically to be a lot harder then the caves in the other modes, there are 25 caves to play through and these will prove to be challenging to any type of gamer that try's to play them.
The graphics and presentation in Boulder Dash X-L can be summed up merely by saying that they are aimed at children. Let me start off by summing up the main menu the basic interface that meets and greets you into the game.
The menu is stylised in a way that is a nice little throwback to the 80s, with the green CRT monitor and old vector styled text displayed it really set off a nice atmosphere for jumping into the game, the borders that also surround the menus in the game are nice and brightly coloured which helps attract the attention of children even more so.
Once in the game itself though the main characters Rockford and Crystal are shown as robots, and the robot look is a very simple style indeed, but also a style that again appeals more to the children of the gaming world rather than the adults. As you can tell though so far from what I have wrote, it does appear that this game is more focused at being family friendly then towards the hardcore market of gamers.
The caves and the levels come in different themes and colour schemes, unfortunately there really didn't seem to be that many to choose from whilst playing the game as the whole time I played it I only witnessed around four maybe five at the most unique themes, whilst these look good and are stylised in a way to match those themes, I couldn't help but always notice the ugly crystallisation effects going on around the sides of the caves. Not only does this look indeed very ugly but it can be a strain on the eyes especially when you're forced into tackling a small cave.
Overall though whilst the graphics really aren't anything special they do get the job done in away that fits the game just nicely.
The sound from the game once you hit the main menu is fitting in touch with the layout of the menu, you get met with a catchy tune that would make you think you are watching a Disney Pixar flick then playing a puzzle game for the Xbox Live Arcade. The tune features many different styles and even features the buzzing of the computers which fit in with the 80's theme that the game is trying so hard to master.
As you scroll through the menus you are welcomes with the sound of an old 80's computer, the sound is taken from when you would either type something into one or choose to go up or down in them as well, it is nice little touches like this that help set off the games charm.
Once in the main game itself, before all of the action kicks off you are met with a countdown which is supposed to be voice by Rockford as it is done in a male computer voiceover. This countdown can be quite loud though so anybody with a sensitive television may want to try turning down the sound from either the games menu first or if failing that their actual television set also.
The countdown isn't the only part of the games sound that is on the borderline of being excessively loud, as when you pick up diamonds you get a ching type of noise that is very high pitched, at times I often had to turn my television all the way down to stop it from either getting annoying or ruining my concentration on the game.
Although the game does have some pretty nice sounds to it, the soundtrack is pretty limited so you better be prepared to listen to the same music over and over again. enemies come with there own individual sounds so that you always know what enemy your close to and what to try and avoid and the rocks and boulders dropping add a nice thump to the game also. Whilst it isn't the best sound delivery in the game It does the job it was created for and will cater to anybody who sits down and plays the game.
Difficulty on a puzzle game is always a tricky subject, Puzzle games are designed to be tricky in parts and not be too easy so that people can blast there way through the game and feeling wanting more.
This game is no different, in fact I would say that it is completely the opposite as once you have finished the first few introductory levels, the game tends to stop holding you by the hand and tells you to go off and figure out the rest of the game on your own, with only the brief loading screens informing you of new abilities and enemies that you will start to come across from that level onwards.
With certain caves being developed to a point where there is only a few different routes that the player can take sometimes you will find yourself surrounded by enemies with no way out, sometimes you may also think that by removing a certain boulder out of the equation will mean that you will be able to reach a certain destination better, only to find out that the boulder you just moved or loosened as now released several other boulders that are currently crashing down on your surround position.
It is nice though that the developers have only changed simple core mechanics to help the game breath a little bit of new life into what would have been a really average experience if it wasn't for these new perks.
This is fine example of how a puzzle game should incorporate there achievements, most of the achievements will come from playing through the Arcade Mode of the game whilst others will come from beating all 25 caves or levels from either Puzzle or Retro Mode.
There are some nice little throwback achievements also like letting the timer run out on cave 25 gaining you a nice 15 gamer score for being called A Lazy Guy.
Whilst some of these will take a little effort to obtain for example crushing two monsters with one boulder and entrapping all the amoebas in five caves, none of them are deemed as being unfair or overly challenging and can be achieved by any average gamer with a little bit of time and effort.
Unfortunately a game breaking glitch which is highlighted in this reviews summery will pinpoint out to you a reason as to why you will either want to do all of this in a single sitting or saving the game the proper way before exiting, otherwise risking all of your progress and with it achievement data.
This game is a niche title to say the least, and it's a shame that many gamers probably won't try this unless it hits the Deal of the Week section on the Xbox Live Marketplace.
The game is pretty fun in small sittings and is nice to relax and wind down to after playing some of those more hectic games that are currently available for the Xbox 360.
Be aware though that if you don't choose to close the game by returning to the main menu of your Xbox then none of your game progress will save, This is pretty much a game breaking glitch and many an time did I lose all of my progress for turning off my Xbox 360 instead of going back to the dashboard from the games menu.
I'm not sure why the developers decided to go down this route and why none of them didn't think that it was a bad idea to do that in the first place. I'm hoping that in a future patch this problem will be rectified as games shouldn't really have this problem in this day and age.
Whilst that is one problem I also found another and that is that the game can get extremely laggy when a lot is currently happening on the screen at the same time, for example if your running around collecting diamonds and your being chased by four or five enemies then be prepared for some slow down to your game, as the game can find it hard to keep up with its own pace at times.
This game really is a diamond in the rough if you excuse the pun, whilst not the best game to ever grace the Live Arcade it certainly isn't the worst and whilst it may be 800 points, I would really recommend that if you want to pick up this title but are on the fence about it then either check out the trial or wait until the game goes on sale.
We would like to thank Kalypso Media for offering us the chance to review this title