Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios / Developer: Catnip Games / Platform: PC, XBLA

If you were a fan of PC games in the late 80s/early 90s you probably remember Boulder Dash, a puzzle/adventure game in which you dodge bugs and falling boulders while trying to collect enough gems to open up the exit.  It was a fun little game that had bite-sized level layouts resembling a puzzle game but controlled more like a platformer or adventure game, with everything moving in real-time.  Boulder Dash XL is a modern reboot of the classic game that definitely keeps its roots intact, but is it enough to keep modern gamers interested?

Right off the bat, I noticed that Boulder Dash XL carries a staggering amount of levels, all spread across four game modes (five, kind of, as “Zen” mode is simply every other mode without a time limit), each with its own distinct pace.  Arcade, Retro, Puzzle, Time Challenge and Zen modes all together bring the game length to around 150 levels, each of which take anywhere for a few seconds to a little over a minute, assuming you finish it all in one shot (which you won’t).  My personal favorite of all these has to be Retro mode, which is essentially the entirety of the original Boulder Dash except given a sort of “3D Pixel” effect, kind of like 3D Dot Game Heroes for PS3.

The other game modes all use Boulder Dash XL‘s more modernized look, and while I prefer the “retro” mode’s appearance, the other modes have this sort of McDonald’s Happy Meal plastic cartoonish look that is actually pretty cute.  What isn’t as lovable, though, are the sound effects.  Many of the game’s sound effects sound like what comes packaged with an amateur video editing program.  Just generic, annoying beeps and bloops that quickly become grating.

Another small annoyance that eventually became a big pain was how each level starts.  After the loading screen, a robotic voice counts down from 3 before you’re actually free to start the level.  While a 3-second pause before a level starts doesn’t sound too bad, when you’re stuck on a tough level that needs to be restarted over and over due to the fact that you die in one hit (despite there strangely being a health bar and health pickups, I have yet to find an enemy or trap that doesnt kill me outright), those three seconds start to become an annoyance.  This is also not just isolated to one game mode; its in every level of every game mode, no matter what.

Despite some bothersome qualities, Boulder Dash XL is still a fun, lengthy game.  Beating all of the caves will take quite a bit of time (and patience) and there is enough of a variance between the game modes to still have something to switch to when you get bored of one, although after awhile the game just started to feel stale to me.  Players looking for a deep, engrossing experience will probably be disappointed, but fans of the original Boulder Dash will most definitely have fun, as well as gamers looking for a puzzle-ish game to play in bursts but still keep them busy for awhile.