Boulder Dash / First Star Software 1984
Screenshots: play/stop

Originally written for the Atari 400/800, IBM PC and PC Junior, Boulder Dash became an overnight success, with the Commodore 64 version being released in 1984.

The idea of Boulder Dash was simple: you control a little guy named Rockford around a scrolling landscape, picking up diamonds. Most of the landscape is made of soil that you dig your way through. When you had collected enough diamonds, the exit would appear and you could continue to the next level.

But – of course – it's never as easy as that! There are obstacles strewn all around the level; the most common of these are the boulders. Digging dirt underneath a boulder will make it fall. If you're underneath it, you lose a life. These boulders can also kill other nasties, though, so it's not all bad. There are also walls which... well, are just walls. They get in the way and you can't move them (unless you're clever and blow one up!).

Your best friend, the diamonds, can unfortunately kill you too, if you happen to be underneath one when it falls, so avoid those, too!

Other nasties include Fireflies – basically flashing squares – which kill you as soon as you move one square near them. However, they have a predictable movement in that they always want to turn left when they can. Butterflies are a similar nasty, but always want to turn right. Also, they turn into diamonds if killed (by a boulder, etc).

Other things to look out for are enchanted walls, which turn boulders into diamonds. Being the sort of game it is, it also turns diamonds back into boulders!

There is a growing amoeba, too, where you dig dirt around it to help it expand. It can't kill you, but any butterflies hitting it will turn into a nice 3x3 matrix of diamonds! Unfortunately the amoeba can burn itself out and, once it reaches a certain size, will turn into boulders.

The game itself has 16 caves (or levels, lettered A to P), with interlude puzzles after levels D, H, L and P.

Although the game sounds simple, it requires a lot of thought – you have to make sure boulders don't land in the way of diamonds, or you trap yourself inside them. You can (slowly) push a boulder left or right, but only if there's empty space to the side.

Boulder Dash became one of the most addictive games on the home computer market, and spawned a number of sequels, both official and unofficial. Two arcade games were even made from it, one based on an Atari computer and one on an Amiga!

The Commodore 64 version is simple but effective: Its graphics aren't groundbreaking but they're still amusing – Rockford taps his foot if you leave him standing for too long, for instance. The landscape scrolls smoothly but the main characters move in "blocks" or steps of 16 pixels. Initially this can be confusing but you soon get used to it – especially when you're too busy avoiding a boulder landing on your head!

Sound is also simplistic: there is a basic (but catchy) tune on the title screen, and then you just get sound effects. Minimalistic but functional.

Overall it's an excellent fast-paced puzzle-type maze game that will keep you coming back for more. And if you ever get bored of the first game's 16 levels, then there's always the sequels to load up!

Reviewed by Boz.

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