Gems N Rocks

Yesterday, I reviewed a Lode Runner clone.  Today, I review a Boulder Dash clone.  Both were early-80s computer titles that received dozens of remakes, re-skins, and ports over the years.  The difference?  I’ve never played Boulder Dash or any of its offspring.  It wasn’t even on my radar, mostly because I’ve never heard it described as a holy shit must-play industry altering super game.  It just sort of exists as one of those “did you ever play that one game” titles that gets brought up from time to time.  No matter the game, if the answer is “yes” the conversation likely ends on the spot.  If the answer is “no” the questioner usually follows up with “it was alright.”  Then the conversation ends.  Boulder Dash was one of those.

I’m kind of glad I’m going into Gems N Rocks with no experience of the franchise it’s bastardizing.  It means I’ll have no frame of reference for how the game should play and thus I’ll better be able to grasp if it can stand out on its own.

The idea is you’re a dude that has to mine for gems.  In each stage you must collect all the gems to win.  You excavate through stages like you’re Dig Dug, only instead of trying to drop rocks on dragons or balloons wearing goggles, you just have to avoid dropping them on yourself.  Whenever you dig around a boulder, it creates a cascade that takes it and all other boulders it’s holding in place with it.  This leads to hilarious situations where you can pin yourself in while collecting the last gem.  You still beat the stage, but if you’re like me and you dwell on these things, you realize your little miner dude is trapped and will slowly starve to death.  Life can be cruel.

There are forty stages here, unevenly divided into three categories.  There’s easy stages.  All you need to know about those is the very last one beats itself for you.  I guess for some developers “easy” is interpreted as “for the recently lobotomized.”  The medium and hard stages are often neither, with the solutions relatively straight forward and often based on some kind of “outrun the enemies” situation.  My favorite levels involved little heat-seeking robots that go all Terminator on your ass.  These are genuinely tense stages, made more so by how fucking horrible the controls in Gems N Rocks are.  Seriously, it’s as if the game comes bundled with an asshole that dips your controller in molasses between stages.  Movement is slow and sticky, and figuring out how to deal with it is literally the only thing that challenged me the entire game.

This is the stage that beats itself like a masochistic dominatrix.

I’m told that Gems N Rocks adds new concepts to the Boulder Dash formula like liquid puzzles based around water, bacteria, and mercury.  Again, I have no reference point to whether it’s an upgrade over the conventional design.  I will say that I would have probably enjoyed the game more if the controls were not so painfully unresponsive that my best strategy involved placing my control on a table and poking the direction I wanted to go on the D-Pad with my finger tip.  If the main challenge your game offers is fighting the controller, you should probably let it cook in development longer.

I never bothered with the included level editor, because I think those are for nerds, and I’m more of a dweeb.  Going off just the included levels, I honestly thought Gems N Rocks was mediocre, with the potential to be decent if the controls had been accurate.  When I brought up my concern to the developer, it took him by surprise, although he conceded that it was probably an example of him playing his own game so much that he never noticed there was a problem.  What he needed was a canary for his mine.  Someone like me, armed with a fork, sitting next to him while they played the game for the first time.  He would have known there was a problem when the fork became embedded in his temple.  Oddly enough, this is the absolute only way I would ever volunteer to test games myself, but nobody is willing to sign the liability waver.  Shame.  I think the Fork You method of testing could revolutionize Xbox Live Indie Games.

Gems N Rocks was developed by Fuzzy Duck Entertainment

80 Microsoft Points think Fuzzy Duck sounds like some kind of Kama Sutra thing in the making of this review.

Gameplay footage courtesy of

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

11 Responses to Gems N Rocks

  1. Seems like an interesting concept. Like you, I’ve never played boulder dash, lode runner or any other old games. I know a re-skin when I see one, simply because there a loads of other very similar games out there but then instead of comparing it to the original I compare it to the other re-skins. With that logic, I think this game is a very shitty re-skin. There’s better games like this all over the internet(and most likely XBLIG as well).

  2. Uh oh. I played the demo and liked it, though I have fond memories of playing Lode Runner on the C64 and Emerald Mine on the Amiga (which Gems N Rocks reminds me of). I went ahead and bought it earlier this week but haven’t had a chance to play the full version yet.

  3. This is one of those games that caught my interest in the demo but the full version fails miserably. The level designs are awful, the last level on hard is extremely laggy, and I just spent the past 20 minutes making a level only to have the game Code 4 when I tried to save it. P.O.S.

  4. BrunoB says:

    Played it quite a bit ago and don’t remember it very vividly, anyway a major part of the problem with these games is that they’re meant to be played with a digital pad, and the 360’s one is plain horrible.

    • Just tried plugging in a keyboard and surprise — you can control the game with the arrow keys. That helps with the controls for me, so all that’s left is to fix the horrible level design for all stages past what’s available in the demo mode, and the Code 4 crashes in the level editor that should have failed the game from getting on the marketplace. And the lag / slowdowns on some levels.

      I’d take time to find more problems but I’m not beta testing the damn thing — I already bought it.

      • georgeduckett says:

        Hi Bill. Can you remember what you were doing in the level editor at the time? Also, if it happens again sending the crash report to the gamertag shown would be very useful in trying to track down the cause.

  5. Starglider says:

    It looks like a successful ‘teach myself XNA’ project, where you clone an existing game design so you can concentrate on learning the technology. Which is great for the developer, but since there are already hundreds of boulderdash clones, probably not so interesting for potential players.

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