First it was Spelunker HD, then Spelunky and now Boulder Dash-XL. It's as if somebody decided that retro-style cave exploration was the happening thing and didn't tell the rest of us. Not that I'm complaining, because it turns out that this reimagined classic is just as much fun as the 1984 original. With updated graphics, nearly a half dozen game modes and an attractive price, Boulder Dash-XL shows the competition a thing or about finding treasure deep below the earth's crust.
The original 1984 game is a genuine masterpiece, a maze game that managed to feel nothing like Pac-Man. This 2011 update isn't nearly the revelation the first game was, but still makes for a fun time at a cheap price. The concept is the same and there are more than enough modes to keep gamers interested for a long time to come. Gamers definitely get their money's worth with Boulder Dash-XL.
This is a game about exploration and diamond collecting. In each level the adorable robot characters (Rockford and Crystal) must push their way through dirt and snow to pick up hidden diamonds and find the exit. Each of the 100 levels has a set number of diamond to track down and collect. Once that number secured, an exit opens up and allows our heroic bots to move on to the next stage. Or, if you're really daring, you can track down every last collectable before moving on.
Of course, all this diamond collecting is easier said than done. Rockford will need to look out for a whole host of tricky enemies, as well large boulders that want nothing more than to squish the robot collectors. The good news is that the player is able to walk in any direction, including up and down. But moving dirt can be tricky, because it will change the enemy paths and send environmental dangers (and even the diamonds themselves) tumbling down. It's up to the player to chart the right path and use the boulders to defeat enemies. If you can avoid enough danger while picking up diamonds, you'll live to see another day and brave the cavern maze again.
Most of the enemies have been brought over from the old computer game, so it's fun for old school gamers to see how their favorite baddie has been remade. Thankfully the game eases you into the challenge, which isn't something I can say about all cave exploration simulators (I'm looking at you Spelunker HD). But don't be fooled by the relative ease of the first dozen levels, Boulder Dash-XL gets tough in a hurry. It's going to take a lot of digging to beat this $10 Xbox Live Arcade game.
The good news is the game is always adding new ideas and obstacles, which forces players to always be on their toes. The even better news is that you can play this game several different ways, completely changing up the rules and objectives. The result is a versatile little action action/puzzler with more content than you'll know what to do with.
On top of the standard campaign, Boulder Dash-XL also includes several ingenious bonus modes. The most interesting is the puzzle mode, which gives players a cavern that can only be completed one way. It's up to the players to figure out the one route, collect the diamonds and find the exit.
The next mode allows players to replay completed stages without the worry of time limits. This Zen Mode is good for gamers wanting to hone their strategies. There's a Score Challenge, which has players scrambling to pick up as many points as possible and compete against their friends via an online leaderboard. These three variations on the theme help to keep the action fresh, though they pale in comparison to the full campaign mode.
The 1984 original is also included in the package, though it's not at all what I was expecting. Instead of emulating an old computer or console, the developers have decided to remake the game using polygons. The result is a little ... weird. The visuals look fine, though they are designed to appear lower-res. I wasn't a big fan of how these two styles mixed, but did have a good time playing through the recreated levels from the original game. Keep one thing in mind: The Retro Mode isn't messing around; it starts considerably harder than the standard campaign.
I was impressed with the game's presentation, especially when it comes to the character models. Swapping from humans to robots seems like an unnecessary change, but everything else was faithfully recreated. The game throws in some really cool lighting effects, the kind of thing you normally wouldn't expect from an otherwise simple puzzle game. The whole game sparkles like the diamonds you can't get enough of.
The controls are also good, though not as flashy as the graphics. Don't be fooled by the simple control scheme, because Rockford has a few tricks up his sleeves. For one thing he can grab on to items. What's more, hardcore players will discover that this robot can dig so fast that sometimes a boulder won't have time to crush him. The game works fine with both the D-pad and the analog stick, which is about all you can ask from this style of Xbox Live Arcade experience.
At a mere ten dollars, Boulder Dash-XL is an easy game to recommend. The simple gameplay, impressive presentation and shocking amount of content makes this a no-brainer, even if you weren't born when the 1984 original was all the rage. It may not be as flashy as Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, but this is one maze game that will stick with you for years to come.