The first thing to note about Rocks is that the game does not force touch-screen controls down your throat. Instead, when booting up the game, it all starts off with two separate game modes being available on the menu screen to choose from – Planet Tour (which is touch-screen free) and Route Race (which is the special new touch-screen mode made exclusively for DS). The first of these options is basically like the very first Boulder Dash, and has thankfully not been tinkered with too much. Players take control of the hero, Rockford, who is on a mission to woo his true love, Crystal. He must traverse the universe to collect enough precious diamonds to win her heart. To do this, the player must help him to dig through the plentiful amount of stages spread across four worlds (including jungle and lava themes, plus more), avoiding numerous enemies and other pitfalls, such as boulders that fall when the areas to the left, right of them, as well as beneath them, are cleared, as well as having to dodge frustrating dead ends, whilst keeping always an eye on the clock that is rapidly counting down and ensuring enough jewels have been grabbed to open up the exit path. The game really does demand a high amount of concentration and lateral thinking to push through to the later stages.
Therefore, this first main mode plays pretty much like old-school Boulder Dash, but now with spruced up graphics, given a nice lick of paint to make everything shiny and colourful, plus a soundtrack that is boosted by the power of the DS, meaning the cute (and very catchy) tunes come blasting out in very good quality. Fans of the original will be pleased to note that references to the earlier outings are still in place, thanks to the help of original IP owner 'First Star Software. An example is the Amoeba, which is back in full force – and for those that do not know of it, the creature expands throughout the maze-like stages, one space at a time, potentially blocking off Rockford’s path and causing you to have to re-start the level. However, on the positive side, should you prevent its progress by blocking its route either with yourself or a boulder, the Amoeba turns into precious gems! So not only are you racing against the clock to reach the exit, but also trying to be as strategic as possible to achieve the highest score you can get, as well as open up that goal as soon as you can.
Other features in this extensive mode include very limited weaponry that can blast away enemies, drag rocks out of the way and even put out fires (each one is just a single shot, with you needing to locate special blocks throughout a stage to refill the special gun), coloured keys that unlock specific routes through a maze, teleportation devices that fling you to other parts of a stage, as well as trapdoors that send Rockford down a one-way route, with no way of turning back. The game really does ramp up the difficulty level early on, and there will be many deaths (especially during boss fights!) or stage re-starts as a result. Yet the brain-taxing puzzle element makes this game very addictive and, at least in this early hands-on, it has that much-needed 'just one more go' feel to it, something all great puzzle titles should have.
The other mode on offer in this early edition is Route Race, which allows gamers to use the stylus to draw a path through a stage for Rockford to follow. Sounds simple, right? Well, it most definitely is not as the usual set of hazards is still present in each stage. This time, however, the player cannot take evasive action at the appropriate time, rather having to pre-empt what may occur and factor that into the route chosen (such as doing things like doubling back on yourself or tapping twice on Rockford to make him stand still for a short time to, for instance, prevent a boulder that is falling downwards crushing him). Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the set-up of this touch-screen mode and it complements the Planet Tour mode perfectly. It is just a shame there is no level creator tool. This was something that was included in much older editions of the game than this, so would have been thought to be a definite addition. You have to wonder why this was left out...
As for what else the full game will offer; there will be a Time Trial where Rockford has to complete levels as quickly as he can, Multi-player mode, in which you can compete against one other friend, yet they must also have a copy of the game; and the Extras screen, where the Rewards Shop can be found (amongst other rudimentary options, such as 'Sound/Music'). More details on this game are also available in the recent exclusive chat with 10TACLE Studios about the game. Be sure to check it out here: http://www.cubed3.com/news/8952/