by Travis Fahs1
Lode Runner Classic Review
Lode Runner is a game that needs no introduction. Since appearing on the Apple II three decades ago, it has become one of the most widely ported titles in all of gaming, appearing on over two dozen platforms officially, and countless others in the form or remakes and clones. In fact, those itching for some Lode Runner action have a few options on the Play Store already, as long as you aren’t worried about named and licenses.
Lode Runner Classic distinguishes itself from the imitators by staying very close to the source material. This is not a remake or sequel, it’s a faithful recreation of the original, much as it appeared in 1983, with a host of control and display options to enhance the experience. You’ll find the same blocky stick figures and sparse backgrounds, and although they’re slightly retouched, it’s still about as ancient looking as it gets. There’s a new soundtrack added, which sounds appropriately retro, and fits the game’s mood. Otherwise, not much has changed.
Lode Runner was a pretty unusual game when it came out. Although clearly rooted in the arcade games of the day like Donkey Kong, Space Panic, and Pac-Man, it slowly evolves into a puzzle game in arcade clothing. For those who are unfamiliar, your runner has to collect all the gold bars on screen, armed only with the ability to temporarily desrtoy blocks diagonally to his lower-left or lower-right. This can be used to set traps for enemies, or to make paths to reach blocks that are otherwise inaccessible. Enemies have a predictable, simple AI, and manipulating them is often a part of the level design as well.
Classic packs all 150 original stages, and it’s pretty impressive what a substantial package they form, even thirty year later. These levels can be played in any order, so picking up after you’ve died is no problem at all. It’s also impressive how well these stages hold up in terms of design. This was one of the first games to really put an emphasis on varied, clever puzzle design in its levels, and they’re still head and shoulders above the stages found in the bevvy of clones out there.
Equally important was the fact that Lode Runner put gamers in the design chair, and offered one of the first user-friendly level editors with on-disk saving. It was only because of this accessible tool that Doug Smith was able to amass such a quantity of quality levels in the first place, and it was one of the first times kids had a real opportunity to try their hand at design in such an accessible way. Sadly, this feature has been nixed completely from the Android port, which is a terrible missed opportunity for online level sharing.
There aren’t a great deal of options or enhancements. A color editor allows you to create a custom palette for the sprites and backgrounds, which is nice for adding a bit more color variety to the game’s simple visuals. The rest of the options are mostly silly, including a disorienting “zoom” mode that creates a fisheye effect that follows the player.
There are three different control styles. The first is a traditional d-pad and buttons, which works well, but places the already small view in a letterbox to accommodate the on-screen control. The second is a pretty effective touch mode that allows you to press around the edges of the screen and swipe to dig. The last is the obligatory (and useless) accelerometer mode, which is best avoided. As usual, none of these modes is perfect, but the touch-based set ups are playable.
Even after all these years, Lode Runner is still a great game, and Classic recreates it faithfully. The original stages are still great, and it’ll take players a long time to dig through all 150. It’s a bit disappointing that there is so little in the way of enhancements, new graphics, or new stages, but it’s also very clear that this was never meant to be anything more than a recreation of the original. What’s less forgivable is the absence of the level editor. While this is hardly the first version of Lode Runner to make that omission, it’s especially disappointing on a platform that would be so well-suited to it, with both a touch-screen and online connectivity. Despite this, it’s clear that the Lode Runner Classic is by far the best version of the classic on the Android, and no gaming library is complete with Doug Smith’s puzzler.
Is it hardcore?
Summary: Lode Runner Classic does very little to update the original, and the absence of a level editor is very disappointing, but it still manages to best its imitators.