Version Reviewed: 1.1
Device Reviewed On: iPad Air
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
With the video game medium itself only about 40 years old, a 30th anniversary is definitely worth celebrating. However, as far as seriously old-school retro revivals go, Boulder Dash 30th Anniversary is no Space Invaders or Pac-Man. Some things are better off buried in the past.
Like in the original, players control Rockford: a scrappy young spelunker exploring a series of caves. But these aren’t just ordinary caves; they're full of gems, and to open up the exit Rockford must collect a certain number of gems before time runs off. From that description, one might think that gem-collecting would be, if not a difficult process, then at least one that took some thinking. But in Boulder Dash, most of the initial free levels can be beaten by tracing the most straightforward route through the dirt and collecting the obvious gems in plain sight. Players spend the majority of the game performing this deeply uninteresting act again and again. Sure there are a few enemies, but with Rockford’s ability to move basically anywhere and survive anything short of a falling rock, there’s far too little in the player’s way. It almost makes one wish the controls weren’t as smooth and forgiving as they are. Later worlds do ramp up the challenge, but the dull and lengthy introduction discourages players from grinding and earning the stars necessary to unlock the more interesting content for free.
To be fair the game does slowly introduce some side tricks to spice up the experience. Players can up blow up tough bricks with dynamite, teleport between sections of the cave, get a better view with the spyglass, and feed boulders into skulls to turn them into gems in one of the game’s few actually clever puzzles. Plus the vibrant, fluid, 3D graphics are a big improvement over the sparse original. However, there’s also an odd amount of seemingly useless features like the ability to grab gems next to Rockford without moving or loot drops vaguely connected to new character unlocks.
For a game about descending deeper, Boulder Dash's problem is right on the surface. Its gameplay hinges on a boring hook. I just couldn’t dig it.