The cutest new character on the computer gaming block is Rockford, the doe-eyed star of Boulder Dash.

This crusty little cave creature not only blinks his eyes randomly in a very life-like manner, but he even prompts gamers who are too slow on the stick by tapping his foot impatiently when left alone too long. His reminders aren't in vain, though, because each turn is a race against the clock to collect all the jewels on each screen, then find the exit door and go on to the next level.

Little Rockford's job is to dig through 16 different playfields of soft, boulder-strewn earth filled with the glittering diamonds. Any time he dislodges a boulder (by either moving or digging directly beneath it), the rock falls until it reaches solid ground. Rockford can outrun any falling boulder - as long as he doesn't hesitate. If he's caught by a rock, or even by a jewel dislodged from its place, he loses a turn. It's also possible to be trapped on all sides by unmovable rocks. When this happens, press the ESCAPE key to reset the screen.

Most screens require advance planning to keep from blocking off the escape door with piled-up boulders, and even at the easiest of five difficulty levels, it's no small feat. Loosing the bottommost rock in a group creates an appropriate landslide of falling debris, animated realistically and with good sound effects.

Boulder Dash's only weak point lies in its instruction book. Completely devoid of illustration, it doesn't help gamers figure out that the flashing squares are dangerous fireflies, for example, or which walls can be broken through with boulders. The rule book also doesn't explain how to break walls. Still, devoted dashers will eventually surmount this problem through the "thrill of discovery" method.

The program itself has plenty of user-friendly goodies that keep players from getting bored too quickly. Before starting the game, a player can use the joystick to select which of four caves Rockford will enter, though once inside he must progress through all that cave's screens. Five difficulty levels, plus two playable intermission screens, add spice to an already good game.

Veteran computerists will appreciate Boulder Dash's ultra-playable blend of fast action and brain-teasing strategy. This is one game that can't be mastered in a mere few play sessions. If you want a good run for your money, Boulder Dash could be just the thing!