Review: Boulder Dash (C64)

Boulder Dash Commodore 64 Front Cover

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the C64 Core
  • Speedlink USB Joystick or a mouse (recommend mouse)

My Review

Games have over time come in many shapes and sizes. The early days of gaming were consumed by action, by creating that addictive one-more-go thrill, that need to beat the high score or see the next screen. More recently designers have shied away from this, seeing it as perhaps toxic in some way, or as being less of an artform, and yet by discarding these things we lose some of what makes gaming great.

The title screen

I’m sure we all remember those days, when we had time but no money, when every game we bought, and the cover disk demos on magazines, would be played to death. And in truth those games demanded such – they hooked you and made sure you wanted to play more. I remember being deeply addicted to Mad Professor Mariarti and Mouse Trap back in the day, and I don’t think it can honestly be said that I was harmed in any way by my gaming. Indeed, it offered me an escape from a difficult childhood in a family where in truth I was not always welcome.

There is much to be said for gaming – older games have the property of difficulty, of encouraging you to work hard at something to get better. Practice makes perfect, and when you only have a few games you must practice. It undoubtedly helped shape a mindset which helped later in life, a desire to ‘git gud’ as the kids say today disparagingly, and yet why is it so bad to desire personal improvement?

So we come to Boulder Dash. Its rules are simple, its goals straightforward. You must get a number of jewels and head for the exit. Digging through the earth you may dislodge boulders and have to dash, hence the name. And yet it’s so much more than that. It’s incredible tension, found in Jenga and Operation, knowing that one wrong move might dislodge the pile and send it crashing on your head. It’s also puzzling – sometimes you’ll have an arrangement of rocks blocking access to a jewel and you’ll have to figure out how to move them, and then have to hurry doing it so they don’t land on your head. There’s immense satisfaction that comes from success, and failure just drives you on to try again. How can we not love that?

Where it all begins

Graphically the game is simple enough, a tile-based layout with simple designs, but the main sprite is well-animated and scrolling is smooth. The visuals can get a little muddy in places but it’s usually still fairly clear what is expected and in a way muddy visuals shouldn’t be a surprise when you’re digging underground. Luckily the deliniation between enemies, rocks, immovable walls and earth are clear, so you can never blame the graphics for any confusion.

Sound is sparse but gets the job done. It doesn’t get in the way, other than the awful opening tune, it gives you the information you’d want it to. It’s not exciting but it doesn’t need to be.

Verdict

So you can probably already guess the verdict – I love it. This is a game that drags you in and doesn’t let go – there was some genuine danger of me making a video several hours long but I had to show some discipline and stop myself before I bored everyone to tears. Boulder Dash is a classic for a reason.

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