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Video Game / Boulder Dash

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Boulder Dash is 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.

The series has received various entries throughout the years, including Boulder Dash EX for the Game Boy Advance in 2002, which stars a new character named Alex saving his friend Sonya from the Dark King. And Boulder Dash Rocks! for the Nintendo DS in 2007, featuring the return of Rockford (as some sort of alien creature) traveling through various planets trying to find the perfect jewel for his love interest Crystal.

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. (There were at least two coin-op versions, Rockford by Mastertronic and Boulder Dash by Data East.)
  • Brutal Bonus Level: The V-shaped (and thankfully optional) bonus round, depicted here.
  • Fan Sequel: Visit sites that offer ROM files of C-64 games and you will find literally hundreds of home-grown Boulder Dash sequels. Megablasters for the Amstrad CPC was also massive.
  • Level Editor: The Boulder Dash Construction Kit is a very robust editor, allowing full modification of everything in the original game. Full level sets can be constructed with their own title screens and distributed as self-contained games.
  • Money Spider: If killed, the butterfly enemies explode into diamonds.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The only music besides 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.
  • Remixed Level: Each base layout is remixed five times, with a random sprinkling of boulders and the like. The random sprinkle sometimes forces you to use different tactics, especially in crowded levels. Other levels remain identical, changing only in time or gems needed.
  • Selective Gravity: An inversion of most video game examples- Everything is subject to gravity but you.
  • Super Not-Drowning Skills: Rockford doesn't seem to have any more trouble than usual breathing in Ocean World in the NES port. In fact, despite appearing to take place underwater, it doesn't play any fundamentally different from the other worlds.
  • Tunnel King: Rockford is the only character in the game that can tunnel through dirt, and he's quite the quick digger to boot.
  • Unintentionally Unwinnable: 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.