Coming in at just shy of thirty years, Boulder Dash is one of those series that stands alongside the likes of Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and Pac-Man to define just what a ‘classic’ videogame is. While it never penetrated the mainstream consciousness in the same way as many of its peers, Boulder Dash has had just as prolific a run as Frogger and Space Invaders, having delivered more than fourteen different titles and twenty editions since conception. The latest of which marks the first to grace the Nintendo 3DS console, and the first designed for stereoscopic 3D gameplay.
The basic gameplay experience remains very similar to its originator, as is the intention. Offering two different gameplay modes, Arcade and Puzzle, with three alternate renditions of the former, Boulder Dash-XL 3D is unreservedly proud of the series it becomes part of, which is both an asset for the long time fans and a barrier for new players to overcome. The gameplay is rather basic, as might be expected given the technology available at the launch of the Boulder Dash, but nonetheless there is plenty of challenge here and much to love thanks to the design of the videogames’ levels.
The player takes on the role of a newly redesigned Rockford or newcomer Crystal, with the aim simply being to reach the exit of a level. In order to do so however, the player must collect enough jewels to unlock the exit without sustaining damage: one hit and it’s all over. On the top-down caves the player has the ability to destroy soft blocks either by punching them or simply walking through them, but items resting atop soft blocks (jewels, boulders etc.) will fall when disturbed, and being caught underneath is not an impact the player can withstand. However, this can also be used as a weapon, destroying enemies and earning you an increased score in the process.
High scores are what Boulder Dash-XL 3D is all about, for while the Arcade mode offers one hundred levels, simply completing them is missing the point. Boulder Dash-XL 3D encourages players to collect every jewel, eliminate as many enemies and exit in the quickest time possible, thus earning them the best possible score. Sadly, the lack of online leaderboards is a shocking oversight, greatly reducing the competitive nature of the title in a fashion that such a modern high score dependant product simply can’t overlook.
The Puzzle gameplay turns the formula on its head, tasking the player with finding the appropriate route as opposed to simply collecting adequate quantities of jewels. These twenty five levels are the greatest challenge Boulder Dash-XL 3D offers, and player swill surely be disappointed when having made their way through to find that there’s little else left. The Zen gameplay mode offers the Arcade levels without a time limit while the Score mode invites players to take on larger levels (with the same Arcade mode ruleset) with the addition of unlockable doors. Exactly why the Score mode wasn’t simply presented as bonus levels for the Arcade mode is a design decision that may never be explained, especially considering only five are included.
The final rendition of the Arcade ruleset is the retro mode, in which players have access to twenty five levels based on those presented in the original 1980s videogames. The art direction here is simply fantastic, presenting a 3D rendition of the original 8-bit design that is so respectful of its source material it puts many modernisations to shame. However, by the same respect it proves that Boulder Dash-XL 3D is a videogame designed for established fans rather than newcomers: the care and attention having been paid to the core gameplay experience is nothing compared to the retro styling and gameplay design.
While Boulder Dash-XL 3D is a very welcome recreation of a long running videogame series, it hardly breaks the mould. There’s simply very little here that would encourage a newcomer to return after the first few levels – unless high score gameplay is what their Nintendo 3DS catalogue is missing – and with so many arcade modernisations being offered in the current market it’s a wonder why Boulder Dash-XL 3D is expecting to achieve where other, more complicated experiences have failed. Boulder Dash-XL 3D’s budget price-tag will undoubtedly aid it to find a respectful audience, but Electronic Theatre can’t help but wonder if it would have been better launching earlier in the year as originally intended, when the now bloating Nintendo 3DS release schedule was wafer thin.