Boulder Dash is a fondly-remembered classic and was so popular back in the day that it spawned umpteen sequels and numerous ports and remakes which continue to appear even today. It was perhaps inevitable that the game would appear in some capacity on one of the Wii's download services, so how does the old classic stand up today?
Well first things first, it can't be denied that the rudimentary sound and graphics betray the game's advanced age; we've been given the C64 port, the second version of the game after the Atari 800 original, and it's an early Commodore title at that, with none of the impressive presentation of later games like Turrican or Creatures.
The graphics are basic and functional at best; the diamonds Rockford lusts after don't look much like diamonds, and Rockford himself looks more like some kind of insectoid alien and less like the human explorer depicted on the cover (the original North American cover anyway; the European boxart was more honest in this regard). The sound too is stripped down to a series of beeps and whistles which don't make particularly good use of the C64's advanced sound hardware and become grating very quickly. That said, the offbeat theme tune, while too chaotic to be properly catchy, does have a certain awkward charm.
So if it doesn't look or sound much good, what has Boulder Dash got going for it? Well, like all the best puzzle titles, this one has a core of rock solid (pun intended) gameplay. It starts off simply enough, with a pretty basic level layout and no enemies, a gentle introduction to how the game works. Even here, though, a surprising complexity is revealed, as it becomes clear that the game is very much a battle between the player and the environment; boulders don't just fall straight down, they roll and bounce, and there are numerous ways to exploit the player's surroundings.
For example, the hostile "fireflies" (more like flashing squares of doom than insects) can be avoided as they are simple creatures with no real interest in pursuing Rockford; but if one of the insects is crushed by a falling boulder, the resulting explosion can clear away parts of the level that Rockford cannot affect directly himself. The later butterflies and amoebas have even more surprising traits which I'll leave you to discover. The game is not sedate, either; as well as the time limit, the levels are always in flux, with the player's movements loosening rocks, setting creatures free to roam, and so on. It is rarely a good idea to hang around in this game.
All in all, Boulder Dash is not one of the better presented Commodore 64 titles so far released on the Virtual Console, and even a die-hard C64 fan like myself has to admit that the NES version would have been a more attractive prospect, but one can't deny the strength of the gameplay. Anyone who picks up the game will find themselves devoting hours to discovering the most efficient and impressive ways to complete the levels, and for that reason alone Boulder Dash is well worth the price of a download.