Indie Quickie: Boulder Dash 30th Anniversary

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What is it and who made it? A modern revival of the classic 1984 puzzle-action spelunking game by TapStar Interactive and First Star Software.

What platforms is it on and how much does it cost? Originally a freemium mobile game, Boulder Dash 30th Anniversary has now made the jump to PC/Mac with a brand new release on Steam for $14.99 (plus a 10% discount for launch week).

How much did we play? Completed 60 of 220 caves, earned 150 of 780 stars, and unlocked two of the nine bonus playable characters in around two hours. I also spent a little time playing maybe seven or eight user-created levels, as well as tinkering around a bit with the cave editor.

Any technical concerns, hardware requirements, or other details you should know about? As a full-priced port of a free mobile game, this version includes all content without ads or microtransactions. However, two of the worlds are locked behind a DLC paywall of $1.99 apiece. Or you can get the Deluxe Edition, which costs $19.99 and includes access to the two DLC worlds. On the technical side, I’ve noticed that the achievements linked with the Steam Workshop editor don’t seem to be triggering properly. At least I’ve met the requirements for a few of them, yet they haven’t popped. During the treasure chest screen, the chest opening animation will sometimes glitch out without being able to continue. Fortunately the glitch can be bypassed simply by backing out to the main menu and then reentering the treasure menu.

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Why should you play it?

    • Rockford’s Back, Baby: And he’s aged remarkably well after three decades, shaking off the pixels of his youth to sport a cute and colorful–albeit somewhat crude–voxelized makeover. Underneath the fresh new coat of paint, Boulder Dash 30 years later plays like Boulder Dash did 30 years ago. The gist of the game is unchanged: You’re Rockford, digging square by square through labyrinthine subterranean environs to carefully collect gems in such a way that avoids getting the Rockster squished under falling boulders that become jostled loose as adjacent dirt tiles are removed, or attacked by cave creepy-crawlies like butterflies, fireflies, ghosts, dragons, and propagating amoeba. Not all gems need to be collected, just a designated number that unlocks the exit door for a safe escape. What’s new here is the mobile-game-standard ranking system that awards one to three stars per level determined by your final high score, with accumulated stars used to gain access to additional caves spanning around a dozen world themes. Collecting gems in succession provides a combo score bonus, while four different powerups–dynamite, spyglass, freeze, and a x2 score multiplier–open up multiple ways to approach a given cave. This version also includes three difficulty modes for maximum accessibility. Easy mode is for pure casual play thanks to its lack of a timer. The Hardcore mode ups the ante by making it so that falling gems, which are normally harmless, just as deadly to Rockford as avalanching boulders. And the Normal setting splits the difference by instituting a time limit. The first 20 introductory caves are a cinch to the point of being a bit dull, but after that the level design really begins to push both speed, puzzle-solving brain power, and the ability to think and react on the move to the changing landscape.

    • Mad Loot: While tunneling Rockford through plain dirt piles, treasure chest loot drops will randomly occur. After completing a cave, the final score recap page unlocks any treasure chests that were discovered, each one opening to reveal a random assortment of collectibles, including powerups, gold bars, and various types of special loot items associated with unlocking extra playable characters. The bonus characters are more than just re-skinned avatars, too; they actually have their own special gameplay perks. Rockford’s gal pal Crystal, for example, moves around with a 2% movement speed boost, while the stealthy cave ninja Onyx offers a 10% increase to the chances of finding a treasure chest. Gold bars are of even greater importance as the currency used to purchase continues (four bars can be spent to revive right on the spot should you die) and powerup packs (should you fail to get enough through loot drops). Frugal loot grinders even have the option to save up their gold in order to buy instant bonus character and world unlocks without the need to accumulate the required quantity of stars or special items to unlock them the more traditional way, though the prices for doing so are incredibly steep.

    • Cave Creation: The headline feature with the new PC edition is the Steam Workshop integration. I’m typically not one to create my own custom content so I’ve only just dabbled, but right away the level editor made it a snap to start plotting out caves of my own design without having to dig through complex menus or tutorials. The editor uses an intuitive click-and-drop interface for selecting and placing gems, dirt tiles, boulders, enemies, warp portals, magic walls, and various environment decorations with ease. Clicking and dragging allows for “painting” large areas with the selected object. It wasn’t anything to write home about, but within minutes I had at least constructed a functional level. The Steam Workshop itself isn’t exactly booming just yet–there are only 13 uploads so far–but I’ve had fun with the player-created content that I have tried, and the potential is definitely there for great things as the game’s user base hopefully expands over time. In the meantime, the couple hundred core levels should keep you plenty busy.

Parting Thoughts: As someone who cut his teeth as a young gamer in the late 80s and early 90s, Boulder Dash‘s revival hits a certain nostalgic sweet spot that gamers 30 years and older such as myself will find hard to resist. Playing this 30th Anniversary remake feels like going home again, while also proving that simple, classically designed games with a fun singular hook can stand the test of time. Playing the game has that retro feel to it, only now with much more responsive and refined controls (the game plays like a dream with a keyboard) than were possible back in the day as well as enough touches of modernity to bring the game up to the times without tarnishing its authenticity to the past. Boulder Dash‘s shine may have faded some over the past three decades, but its return serves as a reminder that it still is a gaming jewel to be treasured forever.

What is Indie Quickie? It takes a lot longer to fully review a game than it does to get a good sense of what a game is. Even with a full-time staff of writers it would be impossible to fully review the thousands of games that are released every year. Indie Quickie is our way to offer snap impressions of the countless indie titles small teams and one-man game studios are releasing literally every single day, and to help guide players to worthwhile games they may not have heard about before.

Disclosure: A Steam code for Boulder Dash 30th Anniversary was provided to VGBlogger.com by the game’s publisher.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!