Boulder Dash XL review

Indy became an ant, and now a robot. Go figure.

I first met Rockford back in the mid eighties on my Commodore 64. He was supposed to be some sort of Indiana Jones adventurer looking for buried treasures. In reality he looked like a small ant that could dig dirt, and push boulders. Despite looking far from what it was supposed to portray it got quite addictive, and I still remember that adrenaline rush when Rockford tried to outrun a falling boulder to move away in the nick of time just to have it crush an enormous bug. The gameplay paired with my Tac 2, Speed King and The Boss joysticks made it quick and agile. This remake of the original lacks that speed to the controls needed to give the game that edge of excitement. Touch controls can work really well with arcade games, and Namco has managed to release quite a bit of their back catalogue with good result. Instead of focusing all energy on nailing the controls for Boulder Dash XL the developer/porting team seem to have focused on giving extra value by adding a lot of game modes.

If you are a complete novice to the world of Boulder Dash a quick overview. Rockford has to collect diamonds to unlock the exit. Being underground there is dirt, rocks and nasty creatures to pass. Dirt can be dug, rocks have to be pushed or passed by digging underneath, and then letting them fall down. Rockford can die in a number of horrendous ways, but most commonly due to rocks landing on his head. The evil creatures lack AI, and follow paths. Pushing rocks over them is the key to killing them.

The controls are all touch based, but there are options for left or right handed players as well as virtual analogue stick controls and a split keypad. No matter what option I went for the controls were unresponsive, and never felt fluid. Perhaps it was because I was so young playing the original in the eighties, but I do not remember Rockford moving one step at a time on a grid based level. In this 2012 XL version Rockford feels like if he is moving in a turn based strategy game or something. Performing simple moves such as running under a falling rock, and then dodge are hard to do. Using the virtual analogue joystick can be a pain for even the basic movement, and I found myself cursing at it when messing up easy puzzles. The split digital keys are ok for the puzzles, but not when there is a need for speedy manoeuvres. In the middle of the screen there is a push button that allows Rockford to extend a robotic arm to push stones. Yes he has come a long way from the Indiana Jones character he started off as.

As mentioned earlier there are a lot of game modes included in the XL version. The core game is the Arcade mode that reminds most of the classic game. Collect diamonds, avoid enemies and find the exit in time. Despite having the core elements of the game I used to play against my mates trying to beat harder, and harder caves it never gets going. The controls don’t allow for the kind of gameplay needed.

The puzzle mode is perhaps the best mode, as it isn’t as dependent on the controls. Collecting all the diamonds, and reaching the exit might sound simple enough. In puzzle mode the usually quite open world is restricted, and there are limitations to the number of available solutions. One thing that messes up this mode is the lack of a simple restart, or undo feature. When you get stuck you have to exit back to the mode selection, and then start all over. The game also fails to inform you when you are stuck, and can’t complete a puzzle.

A retro mode lets you play with the original graphics, but boy it looks ugly. I couldn’t stand it for long, and it didn’t help matters when Rockford moved like a robot.

Oh, I forgot. In Boulder Dash XL he is a robot, and you can select any of two generic robot looks.

I had high expectations for Boulder Dash XL, as we have seen some seriously great remakes of classics on iOS. Pac-Man Championship is one of those leading the pack. I can see attempts at following the Pac-Man formula by having green, and black menus. The modern twists kind of stops at that, and the game feels old overall.

Boulder Dash XL is an overprized remake of a classic that misses the mark by not having tight controls. If you still have memories of running around as Rockford in your youth I advise you to cherish them, as you won’t relive those days with this version. For those who have never played Boulder Dash I advice you to wait for a price drop, or lite version.

Final Rating


Boulder Dash XL $2.99 Universal for iPad/iPhone/iPod
Version: 1.o.o
Seller: HC Global Distribution Limited

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  • nigelwood

    I always preferred Repton on the BBC Micro