[Note to readers - this review is based on version 1.1 of Bouldermouse. Version 1.2 was released when this review went to press and features a few new sound effects and a couple of bug fixes. Magic Storm are constantly updating Bouldermouse and are looking into some of the below points as I type this. Andrew Williams, Bytten]
Mining is a hard job. If you're a claustrophobic dwarf then mining becomes even more arduous. What's the solution? Hire Bouldermouse! She'll collect all the diamonds in your mine in exchange for all the cheese she can eat. Well, okay... rather Bouldermouse than me in that dark, dangerous mine filled with monsters, boulders and deadly explosives. Except who's guiding Bouldermouse around that mine? Oh, it's me. And I don't even get any cheese.
Bouldermouse, as you might have guessed from the title, is a variant of much-cloned gem hunting game Boulderdash. In this outing we have 3D rendered graphics and a spoken introduction sequence, but the main game is much the same. Move Bouldermouse around each level, collecting all the diamonds and avoiding the monsters. Dig through dirt and watch out for falling boulders, though a falling diamond is just as lethal. Both Bouldermouse and monsters can be killed by them. There are also bombs, dynamite and other dangers to face.
Controls are very simple - just use the arrow keys. Walk into dirt or diamonds to dig/collect. Boulders and explosives can be pushed if they have nothing on the other side to obstruct them. If you accidentally destroy a diamond, you'll need to restart the level by pressing Escape and losing a life. You get a level code when you finally expire so you don't need to restart from the beginning. Options to change graphical effects and whether windowed or full screen are available in an externally run config program.
The very simple controls are deceptive - this is not a simple game, as Boulderdash fans will know. Many of your lives will be lost by using the Escape key, having accidentally let a diamond be destroyed or trapped yourself. As boulders cannot balance on top of each other and dirt stops monsters there's a small amount of strategy involved with the routes you dig. Bombs and dynamite are both very dangerous.
Graphics are 3D rendered and the 3D effect is shown off whenever you start (or restart) a level. Animation is smooth, though the deaths of Bouldermouse and monsters seem to happen just after the killing rock passes behind them, which is a little odd. The monsters all look rather similar and, since any of them can move in either a set pattern or at random, there is no real distinction in practice either. And the 3D graphics highlight that this is still a 2D game rather than take advantage of the ability to change views and zoom in and out. The 3D effects seem rather wasted when the camera is thus constrained.
A small selection of simple music tracks accompany the game, making excellent light background as you puzzle your way through. Sound effects are varied, from digging noises to the grunts as Bouldermouse pushes objects to the rumble of rolling rocks. Monsters and Bouldermouse die with simple "ugh" noises rather than screams, which may be a deliberate decision not to scare youngsters (I honestly don't know). Overall sound is good but not exceptional.
On the plus side, this is a game that will last you some time. You can continue from the last level you reached by noting the four digit code when you finally expire (or press the right hand Ctrl key to quit - English speakers should note that in Germany this key is labelled "Strg"). There's a level editor included with the full version but it takes a little getting used to and lacks more advanced features - I'd have liked to be able to draw lines or blocks of dirt/space/wall/etc and certainly to be able to scroll the screen and place items with the mouse rather than by keyboard alone. Curiously object selection is possible with both mouse and keyboard.
Bouldermouse is not without hiccups. The documentation (including the intro sequence) suffers a number of minor slips, most notably the "Ctrl"/"Strg" problem mentioned earlier and a repeated line at the bottom of the help text. The intro sequence seemed to have trouble matching the book pages to the spoken/subtitled text. The game also hung several times when trying to play homemade levels, generally due to poor error trapping (such as not selecting a valid level name to load). I've already mentioned the oddities with monster deaths, but not the way that rocks float away across the screen if Bouldermouse dies while pushing them. Also bizarre is the way my review copy prompts me to buy the full version, when it technically already is (I have no idea if this also occurs to customer versions but sincerely hope not...!).
My overall impression of Bouldermouse is that it could be a good game when it is finished. The external game settings, rough and ready game text, poor interface for level design and selection and the occasional glitch suggest a beta version. A bold and rather pretty attempt at remaking the old classic, but there are many other versions out there and fans of the genre may well find something they prefer.
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