Originally released way back in 1983, Lode Runner caught the imagination of gamers with its unique mix of fast-paced platforming gameplay and intense, puzzle-based conundrums. Since that release, there have been more ports and pseudo-sequels than you could point a stick at (heck, there’s even been a Lode Runner board game) but despite the ever increasing processing power of the machines to which it has been ported, the core gameplay has remained all but untouched.
The same is very much true of the recently reduced XBLA release. Now available at a much more tempting 800MS Points, Lode Runner’s mix of classic gameplay, upgraded visuals and huge selection of game modes and challenges makes it a fantastic package for those looking for a game that will test your thumbs and your mind in equal measure.
Before we get to the gameplay, let’s get straight to my one major gripe – the visuals. Although clean and competent, like their work on R-Type Dimension’s upgraded visual style, Tozai and SouthEnd Interactive seem to have completely forgone style and imagination. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the visuals, they just lack imagination and are subsequently very forgettable. Still, they are in no way obtrusive, with the Lode Runner himself animating smoothly and levels easily navigable.
With that little moan out the way, I can get back to telling you why Lode Runner was, and clearly still is, rather fantastic. With each stage made up of a static screen, it’s down to you to collect the gold in each area without being touched, and subsequently vaporized, by the host of enemies baying for your blood. With a bizarre mix of yetis, robots, evil monks and other such troublesome types on your trail, there is rarely a moment of respite amid Lode Runner’s epic, 80 stage Journey Mode.
Playing almost exactly the same as it did way back when, Lode Runner allows for long distant falling, climbing but no jumping. Reaching the gold scattered around each level and steering clear of your enemies is dependent upon your quick reactions, careful planning and smart use of your blaster. Rather than shooting down enemies with this devise, you are only capable of shooting out certain blocks directly below you to the immediate right or left. This careful blasting away of the stage not only lets you collect otherwise unreachable pieces of gold but also allows you to trap enemies and subsequently run over their heads to collect any gold they may have accumulated while chasing after you.
As the core mechanics were all but perfect from the get go, the big improvements over the years have come from the increasingly devilish level designs, and in that respect, the XBLA version certainly doesn’t come up short. While the five environmental backgrounds make little difference to the overall experience, the variation and challenge supplied across the 80 Journey Mode stages, the 48 unique Co-Op Mode stages and 50 Puzzle Mode stages delivers a vast and consistently brilliant set of challenges to get through.
While the Jorney Mode presents the meat of the experience and the most classic take on the Lode Runner formula, Puzzle Mode, which removes enemies in place of dastardly brain teasers, delivers a slower pace and a pleasant alternative to the main mode. Hang On Mode, the more intense Yin to Puzzle Mode’s chilled out Yang, isn’t quite as successful. By upping the intensity and enemy count, Hang On Mode loses that quintessential Lode Runner feel and probably won’t steal you away from the other more successful modes for any great deal of time.
On top of these modes are an impressive collection of online and local multiplayer options. Beyond the aforementioned Co-Op Mode that lets players ingeniously walk on each other’s heads to reach otherwise unobtainable gold, there is also a Last Man Mode for up to four players that, rather unsurprisingly, is all about becoming the last man standing. With each downed player becoming yet another enemy upon death, this really sounded like a fantastic idea on paper – a kind of Lode Runner meets Bomber Man hybrid, but sadly, in practice, it doesn’t play out quite as well as one might have hoped, and subsequently falls comfortably behind co-op play in the pecking order.
Despite a few game modes failing to live up to the core quest and a visual style lacking in imagination, Lode Runner is nonetheless a fantastic package, one that, at its new price point, I find very easy to recommend. The classic gameplay is largely unchanged but that’s testament to the design and core mechanics of the 1983 original and in no way a slight on the quality of this latest iteration. With its plethora of game modes, ingenious level design and brilliant core gameplay, Lode Runner is a title you should check out whether you’re a fan of the original or a newcomer to the series.
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