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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Review: Bruce Lee (C64)

Atari 400 800 XL XE Bruce Lee : scans
Bruce Lee Box-Art

Equipment Used/Recommended

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

My Review

So here we are at the first game in the Zzap64 Challenge – starting first from the Top 64 that was published in the first issue to get a few of the pre-Zzap classics, games which belonged to a different era. I sought suggestions at https://www.reddit.com/r/c64/comments/nnlbvr/which_prezzap64_games_are_worth_covering/ and on Twitter and as helpful as people were it didn’t narrow my list down much. So I set about poking and prodding a few games to see which ones to cover, as I can’t cover them all. I enjoyed quite a few but one game absolutely stopped me in my tracks.

A simple and rather humble intro screen belies a truly wonderful game, one deeply suffused with the joy of movement. Skittering across the screen at a clip, as seems the tradition with these older games, and leaping around with reckless abandon, Bruce Lee karate kicks his opponents in the face making a beautiful connection that is so often absent in the combat of other games.

When I first played I thought it was just a combat arena, not entirely understanding that I needed to collect the lanterns. Once I figured that out and understood that doing so would unlock the path to the next area I found myself leaping around, looking for quick ways to get to lanterns and drawing enemies out to sneak past them.

The first level is fairly simple, offering an introduction to the combat side of things mostly, and giving you a playground to try out the movement, and honestly as simple as it is this area is still incredibly good fun. I can never tire of kicking the little green fella right in the face.

I chose the single-player path as my wife, being a bit of a millennial, was horrified by the graphics. Personally I liked their clarity, everything the game tried to communicate to me, it did successfully, and that is in no small part due to readable screens with much care and attention put into presentation.

As you make your way further into the game so more environmental hazards come into play and the game becomes a dance of death, trying to get all those lanterns while avoiding being killed by a wide range of skewery murder-gadgets or worse still, kicked into them by the ninja or the green fella.

There’s no denying the difficulty ratchets up as the game goes on and yet it still has that compulsive one-more-go feeling. When I was making the video, in truth I could have carried on playing for hours but I know nobody wants to watch me being crap at the game for quite that long. Still, I will be playing this for many an hour away from the camera.

Verdict

I’ve killed all tension already, but I make no apologies for that. Bruce Lee is absolutely utterly wonderful and I strongly urge you to go get yourself a copy, whether it be an original or a ROM or however you wish to play, but damn well make sure you do it, because this is a genuinely fantastic game. What a way to start the Zzap64 Challenge!

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