It’s not exactly my usual game choice, but I’ve been playing Boulder Dash EX for the Game Boy Advance recently… and it’s actually rather good. I’m sure most people have played some variant of Boulder Dash at some point in their life, and it’s hard to deny that it’s a classic. Boulder Dash EX features the original game as an added extra, but having already played it I went straight to the “EX Game”, which – due to it’s inherent simplicity – I am going to review (in a rather basic fashion), as opposed to documenting my progress, as I plan to with other games later on.
The “EX Game” consists of two main parts, Story Mode and Battle Mode. Lacking the opportunity to play with someone, my understanding of Battle Mode is a little limited, but it seems to fairly straight-forward, with 2-4 players competing in a small “arena”, trying to collect as many jewels as possible, and drop boulders on their enemies to make them lose points. Nothing revolutionary, but then again no part of this game is revolutionary – it’s not meant to be.
Indeed, by today’s standards, Boulder Dash is very much a “casual game” – and the game’s Story Mode doesn’t make much of an attempt to change this fact. It’s pretty standard fare, and only strays from the “Boulder Dash formula” in a few ways.
The first notable addition is that of enemies. While the original game did feature numerous traps they, for the most part, all followed a fairly similar pattern. EX’s Story Mode features a wide variety of different enemies – who all follow unique patterns, and react to the player’s actions differently. Memorizing these patterns, and learning to predict how each monster will react to a change in environment, adds a new layer of strategy to the game which is definitely welcome.
The second change comes in the form of items. Again, none of these are particularly “unique”, but they all add to the gameplay in a simple, yet definite, way – without over complicating things. With effects such as rotating the screen (and thus changing “gravity”), destroying boulders, and grabbing distant objects, these items allow the game to challenge the player in more numerous ways than the standard formula was able to – whilst always keeping that formula as the primary focus.
Boulder Dash (the original) didn’t have a story, so to speak. And it didn’t need to. EX doesn’t need to either, but the way in which it is implemented means that is surprisingly un-intrusive. While the “plot” – if you can call it that – is about as unoriginal as you can get, it actually manages to do its job quite succinctly. It gives the player their motivation (to save the hero’s love interest), and their goal (to collect the “jewels” spread across the world, in order to repair a magic mirror, and save the aforementioned damsel-in-distress). Entirely generic, yes, but it does what it needs to. And in a time where some games seem to have more cutscenes than gameplay, it’s incredibly refreshing to play a game in which the storyline consists of, more or less, just a beginning and an end.