Boulder Dash Review

The iPhone has been getting a lot of ports and remakes lately, and while there have been some gems in the mix, many have proved lackluster. Boulder Dash, a classic cave-digging game that originally launched in 1984 in arcades and on platforms including the Apple II and Commodore 64, among others, falls in the latter category. While it may look like the original on the surface, its gameplay feels unnatural and plays surprisingly slow, making the game harder than it should be.

New vs. retro. Can you dig?

In Boulder Dash, you play as Rockford, who is a miner digging for treasure. The goal is to dig through a cave and collect enough diamonds within the allotted time to open the exit while avoiding boulders, which will fall on you when you dig underneath them. As simple as the game may be, its gameplay gets much deeper when you throw in explosive bugs and ‘magic’ walls into the mix. If you have played the original, expect everything that you know and love to be the unchanged.

Where this game shines is in its sheer amount of content and presentation. Boulder Dash features 80 of the original levels, or caves, as well as four bonus ones, spread across five difficulty levels. Once you beat a cave, the next one opens up for that difficulty level. On easy difficulty, caves have fewer boulders and more time, allowing beginners to adjust to the game’s environment. For those who already are pros, the higher difficulty settings should bring an extreme challenge. The game is presented much like Namco’s ‘remix’ titles, where you can pick the original, retro graphics or the new, updated graphics, which look beautiful in this case. Whichever you choose, the game plays the same. You can zoom in and out of the screen in order to view the whole level by pinching in and out.

Boulder Dash also features Feint integration, which adds online scoring and the ability to chat with other players–always a nice touch, and it can be disabled for those who don’t want to be bothered by it.

While the game may look pretty, it sure does not play that way–the controls are pretty clunky. As far as moving Rockford goes, there are three methods: two involving a somewhat bulky D-Pad setup and another utilizing touch controls. While all of them work to some degree, they are occasionally unresponsive and do not allow for the quick movements that are necessary for this type of game. There is also the ability from the original to push, grab and dig boulders without moving Rockford via a hand on the screen, although it feels awkward to do this due to its poor implementation.

The game plays slow compared to the original, killing the pace. On higher difficulty levels where you are given less time, Rockford’s lack of footspeed is frustrating; we didn’t even have enough time to reach the exit let alone collect the necessary number of diamonds.

Though pretty on the surface, due clumsy controls and some pacing issues, this ‘updated’ Boulder Dash is not the same experience that we fell in love with back in the day. It’s almost there, but wait for an update before you plunk down the $4.99 for this remake.

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