Boulder Dash EX is an updated version of the classic Boulder Dash, developed by Vision Works and published by KEMCO in 2002. And it’s not bad at all.
The game has two distinct parts: the ‘EX‘ game is the remake and has a ‘story mode’ (single-player campaign) and a ‘battle mode’ (single or multi-player versus), and the ‘Classic’ game is the original Boulder Dash with a few new bells and whistles.
The EX remake is a strange beast. The basic aim is the same as the original – collect a certain number of gems to open up the exit to the next level – but there are new twists, like the fact that you can kick boulders (if there’s nothing blocking them), or rotate the screen (if you pick up a tree stump), drop bombs, or even destroy boulders (if you collect a pickaxe). These new power-ups/pick-ups can be held in your inventory and cycled through, and you activate them when needed. You also earn collector cards as you encounter new enemies or features in the game, and… you also have a health bar in this new game, and touching enemies saps your health gradually, rather than kill you instantly.
If you collect all the extra gems in a stage you can get a perfect score and more points. The aim, therefore, is to brave it and try to collect all the available gems, rather than chicken out and run for the exit as soon as it appears. Which can be quite tricky to do, especially as the wide range of hazards in the remake can make survival difficult if you’re reckless. Usually, though, there’s a way of easily beating a level, but you have to figure it out.
Battle mode in the ‘EX‘ game allows you to fight it out with friends over link-up play, or against AI-controlled bots. You can choose how many opponents you’re going to play against (up to three others), how long the bout is, and which character and stage you’ll play. Again: the aim is to collect as many gems as possible while at the same time trying to destroy your opponents with bombs and falling boulders. Whoever has the most gems after the time is up wins the round, and you can keep playing rounds until you’re sick of it.
The ‘Classic’ game features the original sixteen caves from Boulder Dash, which can be played at five difficulty levels. The graphics and sound are the same as the C64 version, but this time there’s an information panel on the right hand side showing time remaining, your score, how many jewels you’ve got left to get, and how many lives you have left. The downside of having this panel, though, is that it makes the play area square, rather than landscape, which does restrict your view of the level. You can zoom out (to two levels of zoom – x2 and x4), to get a wider view of the playfield, but you can’t play the game while zoomed-out (like you can in the Game Boy version), which is disappointing.
I’m not entirely convinced that this classic mode is as authentic as it looks. Some levels seem much more difficult than in the original. Especially levels with the amoeba, which seems to grow out of control incredibly quickly, making it almost impossible to surround it with boulders so that it bursts into gems. What is good, though, is that – once you’ve completed a stage in classic mode – you can then select it from the cave select screen and play from that level.
Although I didn’t much like this remake initially, it did eventually grow on me. Boulder Dash EX is enjoyable, but not brilliant. It’s good that it has some variety, and while the ‘EX‘ game is a little confusing at times it is at least fairly challenging, trying to work out what to do to get a perfect score. Battle mode is fun too; it’s good that they made it playable with bots as not many people will be able to play link-up. The presentation is a little rough around the edges in places, and the story part of the campaign is basic at best, but the actual gameplay itself is reasonably varied and compelling.
See also: Boulder Dash Special