Boulder Dash

He did the dash, he did the Boulder Dash. The Boulder Dash, it was a home console smash...

Source // Moby Games

Finally, a title I recognise. A game I've played, somewhere, in some form. Where, how, when, I've no idea, but Boulder Dash has a place in my memory and a very obvious place on this list, where it is the third, or fourth, maybe twelfth game we've seen so far to be about mining.

Seriously, games industry, did everything revolving around digging back in the early 80s? Has there been an asteroid mining simulator that I've missed, just to get a piece of that sweet space setting that sells so well too?

I ought to try out Game Dev Tycoon sometime and see if it's just me complaining, or if these guys knew what they were talking about. Until then, I'm firing up Boulder Dash.

Fun Times

I was playing the NES and Game Boy versions of Boulder Dash, both coming out six years later than the original, but the gameplay is identical. You play as Rockford, who spends his time digging for diamonds, enough of which opens an exit to the level so that he can dig for more diamonds in another level entirely.

His existence - your whole reason for playing Boulder Dash - is to grab those diamonds. But that sounds dull, so inevitably great threats to your wellbeing are introduced in the form of monsters (obviously) and loose boulders (not so obvious, but we are underground where big rocks are often found, so why not).

You can dig wherever you please, so long as it's dirt, but you'll need to work out how best to not only move through your environment, but use it against any of your foes. Rockford - despite having a pickaxe, surely - doesn't have a means to fend off any troublemakers, so you'll need to dig yourself a trap and not fall into it in a spot of blind panic.

The title gives away what happens in those situations - there are boulders and if you don't dash away from them, they'll dash towards you. If you dig underneath them like a muppet, they'll fall down. If they're stacked and there's room for them to collapse to one side, they'll collapse to one side.

In early games, you can see chain reactions of seemingly everything in sight falling down around you, a complete rockfall heading towards Rockford, and dashing without thinking can result in digging out more boulders to make the situation all the more problematic. It makes for a game where you've got to keep an eye on the clock, but you ought to think for a second before charging in.


This game can be played damn near everywhere and you'll largely get the same experience out of it. You can pick it up in no time at all and will find out the hard way which strategies work and which don't.

I like it so much that it's hard to pick any frustrations with it, but to be nitpicky about it, the NES version had a few. Firstly there's a Mario inspired overworld thing going on. I don't know what that's about. I can change Rockfords colour scheme, for purely cosmetic reasons. The boulders dance. Handy for telling new players that 'hey, these things, they move', but when half of your screen is filled with jiggling boulders it does your head in after a short while.

I really am grasping for anything else. It might be annoying to have to learn through a bit of trial and error, especially with how some of the level elements work? What enemies do, how to deal with them...

Just scrub this whole section, Boulder Dash is frustration free. Perfect score.

Not pictured: Jiggling boulders. I should have made a gif.

Final Word

Boulder Dash is not the first of it's kind, it sure isn't the last, but it may well be best. I don't even think that's a bold statement to make. I was playing SteamWorld Dig at the weekend, which is absolutely inspired by the likes of Boulder Dash and Dig Dug, but puts it own take on the idea and expands it into it's own thing (by having a steam powered robot who solves puzzles while digging, essentially). Is Minecraft somewhat inspired by Boulder Dash? Probably not, but not digging straight up and collecting diamonds are shared between the two games, as is the ease of getting into the idea of the game and its immense popularity. Or just popularity on its own. Depends who you ask.

Lasting appeal is a target that I'm sure all game developers want to achieve, and it's clear to see that Boulder Dash achieved it. I hope you've already played it, and this is the excuse you need to play it again.

Fun Facts

A Boulder Dash Creation Kit was released in 1986, and there are still user made levels being put together for play, 30 years later.

Boulder Dash, developed by First Star Software, first released in 1984.
Versions played: NES, 1990, via emulation.
Game Boy, 1990, via emulation.
Version watched: Atari 800 XL, 1984 (Retro Gaming & Demos Back To The Roots)