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You just gotta love the Atari 2600. A revered video gaming system that to this day has an extremely healthy “homebrew” scene where hobbyists and programmers are still pumping out original software over twenty years after the system’s retail life came to an end in 1990. But this month, June 2012 is something very special and somewhat historical for this iconic gaming system. For during this month the first officially licensed video game since the early 1990′s was released by First Star Sotware, Inc and AtariAge.com; Boulder Dash.
Now Boulder Dash was originally released in 1984 during the 8-bit computer era. Ultimately it was released on fourteen platforms ranging from the then popular Apple IIe and Commodore 64 to the BBC Micro and even the Acorn Electron. One system it was surprisingly never released on was the Atari 2600, that is until June 2012. Many may wonder why it was never released on what was unquestionably the most popular gaming console of that era but the answer is a simple one; the Atari 2600 simply couldn’t handle the game graphically or operationally. Fast forward to 2002 and two Atari 2600 fans and programmers, Andrew Davie and Thomas Jentzsch decided they were going to do the impossible and port this much beloved video game puzzler to the still ever popular Atari 2600. After twelve years of squeezing all they could from the limited Atari 2600 hardware the game was completed and then was shown to First Star Software, Inc who is one of the few remaining software companies from that magical era and the original publisher and creator of Boulder Dash. Next, enter AtariAge.com’s owner Albert Yarusso whose website is the #1 Atari 2600 fan site and who also happens to have the necessary connections for manufacturing and assembling original and homebrew Atari games to this very day and everything came together.
Now after nearly thirty years in the making we get to do what no one thought would be done and that is review the newly released officially licensed Boulder Dash for the Atari 2600! Boulder Dash is a maddening delightful puzzler where the goal is to guide your treasure hunter named Rockford around a precarious number of playfields which are caves that Rockford “digs” through collecting a given number of Diamonds to open the door to the next level. While digging through these caves Rockford will have to navigate Boulders which when touched by Rockford on any side will fall with gravity. If a boulder falls onto Rockford, the player loses a life and has to start the level from the beginning. It is interesting to note one of the most difficult things the programmers had to deal with when porting Boulder Dash to the Atari 2600 was rewriting the physics engine which controlled the falling boulders, to work on the Atari 2600. A feat that is still top-secret!
In addition to the deadly boulders Rockford must also avoid touching Fireflies and Butterflies, both of which will end a life and send you back to the start of the level. Graphically, Boulder Dash on the Atari 2600 looks every bit as good as any of the original ports of the game in the early 80′s. The sounds of the boulders as they tumble down the cave is spot on, just as you might remember. Just like the original there are a total of sixteen caves and five difficulty settings which shorten your time to complete the level and adds more diamonds that need to be collected. In addition the placement of the diamonds in relation to the deadly boulders changes with higher difficulty levels. Boulder Dash can be played by one or two players and alternate between turns. Each player begins with three lives and bonus lives are awarded every 500 points. Players can choose to start the game on one of five caves if they wish. Boulder Dash even features playable intermissions that if completed will reward the player with a bonus life.
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