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Video Game: Boulder Dash

Boulder Dash was one of the more popular action-puzzle games of the 8-bit era, and remains the archetypal Digging Game. First released for Atari 8-Bit Computers in 1984 and endlessly ported, including to the NES and Virtual Console. In it, the hero Rockford must explore a series of caves/levels, collect a certain quota of diamonds, and reach the exit without dying. Depending on how a level is designed, it could be evocative of Block Puzzles like Sokoban or a hectic arcade game similar to Dig Dug, minus the player's capacity to directly defend himself.

Boulder Dash's primary feature is that boulders and diamonds are subject to gravity, but the player is not. A stack of rocks and diamonds will roll off of each other into a pile if there is room to do so. A careless player may find himself crushed or trapped beneath a mountain of rubble. Certain enemies, when killed, explode into diamonds which can either be collected or kill enemies or players beneath them. Other enemies simply explode, like highly mobile Exploding Barrels, which can be necessary for blasting a hole in a wall.

Boulder Dash was also a technical achievement, with large, freely-scrolling multi-screen levels potentially filled with falling rubble and roaming enemies. It achieved this effect on relatively underpowered hardware by way of its Invisible Grid; everything moved one "tile" at a time, and enemies were lethal if the player was simply adjacent to them.


This work shows examples of:

  • Arcade Perfect Port: Inverted, as bizarre as that may sound. Boulder Dash was the first game to be ported from a home computer system to the arcade.
  • Brutal Bonus Level: the V-shaped (and thankfully optional) bonus round, depicted here.
  • Camera Screw: While the camera tries to keep the plater in-view, it's possible to outrun the camera if the speed is high enough. Even without outrunning the camera, you have to be dangerously close to the edge to cause it to pan.
  • Fan Sequel: Visit sites that offer ROM files of C-64 games and you will find literally hundreds of home-grown Boulder Dash sequels.
  • Follow the Leader: Clones of this game eventually emerged. Many, like Supaplex and Sub Terra, were considered an improvement to the formula.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: the only music outside the title theme is heard when the clock is ticking out. Imagine if the last ten seconds were represented by ascending notes, coming in the same number. As one YouTube user commented on the above link (see "Ear Worm"):
    The "last seconds sound" is still making me pee my pants.
  • Remixed Level: Each base layout is remixed five times, with a random sprinkling of boulders and the like. The random sprinkle somtimes forces you to use different tactics, especially in crowded levels. Other levels remain dientical, changing only in time or gems needed.
  • Selective Gravity: An inversion of most video game examples: Everything is subject to gravity but you.
  • Sequel Difficulty Spike: it can be argued that the less-known "Boulder Dash 2", both for the Commodore64 and designed by Peter Liepa, requires the player to have played the first one before the second, given that the very first level of the second requires the player to blast a hole in a wall by killing a dragonfly (the square-shaped enemy). This game mechanic, alongside the Magic Wall that also shows up in the aforementioned first level, doesn't show up until halfway through the first game, and it's usually exclusive to advanced players (trust us on this one).
  • Tunnel King: Rockford
  • Unwinnable by Mistake: Beyond the ability to ruin your own attempt at finishing a level, some levels are unwinnable.
    • Boulder Dash Intermission 3 is unwinnable on PAL systems, with the player being spawn-killed. At worst, you don't get the extra life.
    • Boulder Dash 3 Cave A-5 is unwinnable, with a boulder blocking the entrance. Caves I-4 and I-5 are also unwinnable. Note that these are checkpoint levels, and you can't complete levels that can only be reached by them.
    Digging GameDig Dug
Bomb JackZX SpectrumBubble Bobble
Atari BasketballAtari 8 -Bit ComputersCastle Wolfenstein
Artillery DuelColeco VisionBuck Rogers: Planet of Zoom
Bonanza BrosAmstrad CPCMiner 2049er
BosconianVideo Games of the 1980sBubble Bobble
Barbarian: The Ultimate WarriorBBC MicroMiner 2049er
The Black CauldronIBM Personal ComputerBuck Rogers: Planet of Zoom
Bad DudesCreator/Data EastBump N Jump
Barbarian: The Ultimate WarriorCommodore 64 Dizzy

alternative title(s): Boulder Dash
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