There are some classic games that are just begging to be dragged from the past, given a new lick of paint and shoved into the hands of today's gaming population and then there are others that just plain stink. Boulder Dash definitely falls into that first category, thankfully, and 10tacle Studios is about to give us a taste of retro-goodness. For many developers there is a temptation to take an old favourite and mess with the formula so much that it is recognisable in name alone (GoldenEye Rogue Agent, anyone?). But is that the case with Boulder Dash Rocks, or is this an exemplar case of what should be done with a franchise?
Rockford is back! Yes, that long forgotten hero from the early 80s has returned and eager to get on the jewel collecting trail once more...and it is about time too. The DS has had its fair share of traditional puzzle games and needed a good maze-like effort to break things up. Coming off the back of a now very crusty old Commodore-64 game, clearly this new version was always going to look far superior on the presentation side. However, whilst it certainly is nowhere near on par with other DS games, in its particular field it holds up very well indeed. Compared to simple puzzle games like Tetris and Puzzle League, the variety in characters, colourful stages and other little extras, such as the attractively visualised story sequences, all help to make Rocks an extremely pleasing effort indeed. On the music front, everything is so cheesy for the most part that it definitely raises a smile on more than one occasion, fitting with the old school theme of the game in general. But on the other hand it is not all twee and cute, as there are other tracks that are quite funky in nature and catchy in general. On the whole, the soundtrack is definitely enjoyable throughout, with lengthy tunes that do not annoyingly loop too quickly, and it will have you reaching for that volume button to turn it up.
The main mode serves up a highly addictive meal of maze-based puzzling whereby you start with Rockford somewhere around a level and must work your way through to the eventual exit, whilst also collecting a set amount of gems. Sounds simple, right? Well, along the way there are plenty of obstacles that cross your path and must either be pushed out of the way or totally despatched using brute force or one of the several weapons that are new to this particular version of Boulder Dash. There are even special locks dotted around some levels that require a key of a specific colour to unlock them and plenty enemies, like the groovy green cabbages with their creepy eyes and scary arms! The giant amoebas from the original even make a return, with gamers having to quickly block off their path by strategically using boulders, jewels, shrubbery found around levels and even Rockford himself, when necessary, to stop their progress for fear of them filling the entire stage, thus causing a required level re-start.
Each and every level is one massive puzzle, complete with dead-ends that will leave you screaming in frustration as the realisation that a level re-start is once again required sinks in. But as the game is so well crafted, this turns out to all be part of the fun and will certainly keep you coming back for more. Other clever features like dynamite that can blow up specific sections of levels or the ability to use the Rockford Zapper later on (with four different versions available – ‘enemy killer’, ‘fire extinguisher’, ‘boulder mover’ and ‘explosion’ with only. Only one shot can be carried at any one time and will be completely lost if used up randomly), help to get you through, but on the whole the game can at times be excruciatingly tough, yet remains thoroughly enjoyable throughout. There are even boss battles included, where you need to use what is around you to avoid death and defeat your foe before progressing to the next level. This really truly is an impressive feat to have taken such a loved classic and beefed it up considerably without losing the original’s feel.
But that is not all that is on offer, since the DS version has a unique touch-screen controlled mode thrown in as well, where players must draw out the path they want Rockford to take in order to reach the goal. Again, this sounds so basic, yet in reality it is a serious nightmare because every action has consequences that you must meticulously plan ahead to avoid. What you need to remember is that when you remove certain aspects of the environment, objects above have a habit of tumbling downwards. In the traditional mode you could simply dodge to avoid watching Rockford get squashed, yet here once the route has been drawn it is out of your hands. Therefore, using double-tap to stop Rockford for a second, plus doubling back both prove to be lifesavers. Considerable thought has to go into this mode, probably more so than in the main mode, really adding to the game's overall high difficulty level, meaning it will certainly last you a heck of a long time and is certainly not recommended for younger, inexperienced players. Throw in the 150-plus levels in total, as well as a Time Trial race mode, Extras, and a head-to-head challenge for two players and Boulder Dash Rocks turns out to be a fantastic package indeed. The only let down has to be that multiplayer requires more than one DS card and Wi-Fi battles were omitted...but perhaps they are being saved for a future edition.
That classic gameplay is back and as addictive as ever, but not only that, special new weapons are present and a clever touch-screen specific mode has been added in that fits perfectly!
Not particularly pushing the DS, but the vibrant colours add a nice feel to the proceedings and a lot of character, albeit simple in nature, to the game as a whole.
Tunes are a healthy mix of retro cheese and funky updated tunes that are certainly are good enough to warrant turning the volume up.
With a very large amount of challenge on offer, stacks of levels, extras and the whole new stylus-control mode, there is a lot to Rocks. The only drawbacks are lack of Wi-Fi races and multi-card multiplayer.
Boulder Dash Rocks is definitely one of the strongest puzzle games on the DS so far. Whilst not the same type of an entry into the genre as the fantastic foursome of Tetris DS, Polarium, Picross and Puzzle League, its maze-based brain teasers will drive you crazy, but keep you coming back for even more torture. 10tacle has done an amazing job of taking an old classic and sprucing it up to play even better than before. If it were not for the restrictive multiplayer options, this would have been rated even higher. Puzzle fans should definitely check this out...
What worries me is that the game LOOKS like it's aimed at younger children...but it is nothing like that at all. It had me bashing my head against the wall on several occasions - but in a good way as it was all my fault, backing myself stupidly into a corner and cutting off my path due to haste.
Hopefully the 'twee' appearance doesn't put people off. I've seen loads of web-based ads for this, but the game's not even made the DS Top 30 in the UK. I wonder how it's faring in other countries, though...