Saturday 17 July 2021

Boulder Dash (NES review)

Developer: Data East, Sakata SAS
Publisher: JVC Music
Released: 1990

Boulder Dash is an action-puzzler that was originally released on Atari 8-bit computers in 1984.

There's six worlds (with four stages each) and your task is to collect the required number of diamonds before reaching the exit. Rocks can be pushed or dropped to either create new paths or to squash incoming enemies. Compared to the 8-bit computer versions, it's pleasing to see that your main character has a lot more sprite detail and personality, and the cutesy graphics give the worlds plenty of charm. Speaking of which, the different themed worlds are reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990, NES) in that there's water, sand and fire locales; while they're typical and (some would say) overused themes the varied locales help to keep players engrossed in the action and invested in what's coming up next. The World Map is a great idea to highlight the adventure ahead of you, and I like how you can choose any stage within an individual world to tackle at your leisure. It's a shame then that the bright, colourful setting is let-down by a couple of substantial issues. Firstly, there's a minor delay between you pressing a direction on the d-pad and your character performing that input; in a game that requires absolute precision this is a very disappointing oversight by the developers. Additionally, the scrolling and animation are jerky which can cause you to overshoot your intended target with alarming frequency. Still, the game does slowly introduce some cool gameplay mechanics to mix things up, including the need to trap growing amoeba in order to release diamonds. The stage solutions aren't always intuitive (and lots of trial-and-error is involved), but it is satisfying when you finally figure out what's required.

Boulder Dash is a unique action-puzzler that features some good stage design and the visual upgrades from the 8-bit computer versions give it increased personality. However, be warned that it is brutally difficult and the fact that it doesn't hold your hand means that this is likely a game that's only suited to more patient players.

Random trivia: A version was also released for the Nintendo Game Boy in 1990.

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