|Source // Wikipedia|
Lode Runner is one of those titles where I know I should know at least something about it, but sadly don't. I know I've come across articles, I know I've seen references to it, but have I bothered to look into those articles and references? Nope. Not until now.
After a few minutes, I think the phrase 'deceptively simple' might be a good starting point...
So this is a screen I saw a lot in Lode Runner, and I don't just mean the 'Game Over' notification. The first level, for someone dropped into this game without any warning, is a matter of learning as you go, and learning the hard way.
You are a stick man, and everything you know about gaming thus far has taught you that you should probably avoid the other stick men, and grab anything that doesn't look like it's nailed down to the floor. You can move left and right, you can climb up and down ladders, you can even swing across monkey bars, all in an effort to grab the gold, reveal the level exit then escape.
Only it's not as simple as that. Your enemies appear to both hunt you down and avoid you, both at the same time, and while you're faster than them, they are relentless in their efforts to stop you. One hit and that's a life gone, time to restart the level, so use your keen navigational skills to skirt around them as best you can, all while making a run for the gold you need to finish the level.
It won't be long before you realise you can't do this with your feet alone, and will need to get digging. You have the option to dig out one block from below to your left or to your right, and you will need to get used to doing so not only quickly, but smartly.
|This is quick digging, but stupidly|
Smarter than me in any case. When you dig a hole, the enemy can fall in and you'll be able to walk over them, which is a strategy you'll need to use often (and yes, of course they defy the laws of physics and only ever fall down one block. Though maybe they're just bracing themselves against the walls). Don't fall into your own holes unless you mean to though, as you can't dig straight down. If you're stuck, you're stuck until the block reforms, which will happen to all your holes after a short while.
The keys to progression in Lode Runner are many. Skill, naturally. A keen sense of timing. A thorough understanding of the underlying game mechanics, if you're that far into the game. They're invaluable, and that's why I'm still discussing them as frustrations - if you don't have them, or you just can't get to grips with the system, then it doesn't matter how many levels Lode Runner can boast, because you'll be stuck at the early ones until you're fed up.
But, if you're better than that, if you're better than me (and you are), Lode Runner sure can boast about its 150 levels. One screen, one character, one easily graspable concept, and 150 different puzzle mazes for you to work through. And if that's not enough for you, this is the first video game to include a level editor, allowing users to create their own hellish puzzles for others.
It's no wonder why Lode Runner was such a popular offering, and thus ported all over the place, sequels a-plenty. That's the first level of the NES version - rather familiar looking, isn't it? I didn't spend as much time with that version, but still sucked. I hate to imagine levels where you have to coax an enemy into picking up gold on your behalf, or to trap them in a specific spot in order to carry out some other plan of attack.
I didn't get far into Lode Runner at all. Hell, you can see the screenshots, Level 001 was a challenge for me. Is that because I'm an idiot, or because the difficulty curve starts pretty high? To save face I'd argue a bit of both. I know I'm an idiot, but I can't be that much of an idiot. A 30-odd year old game can't be that much of a challenge. They were all harder back then, so they say.
I can't give a complete review for Lode Runner, but I can say - easily - that it should be played. No matter my skill level, and lack thereof, I can't deny its lasting appeal. Head on over to the Internet Archive for a quick game and see how you fare.
Supposedly Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov lists Lode Runner as one of his favourite games.
Lode Runner, developed by Doug Smith, first released in 1983.
Versions played: MS-DOS, 1983, via emulation.
NES, 1986, via emulation.
Version watched: Apple II, 1983 (Old Classic Retro Gaming)