Somewhere along the lines of early platform gaming, somebody stood up and said, “Why is everyone jumping? In the real world, do people jump over holes or up halfway-constructed buildings? No, they go around them, or up elevators, or whatever! Leave the jumping to the kangaroos; let’s get some realism in our new game!” And while Lode Runner doesn’t really qualify for the title of “realistic”, at least the guy isn’t bounding around like he’s got springs in his pants.
You play as (insert protagonist name here), whose job it is to run, climb up ladders, and clamber across bars to collect all the…gold, I guess, even though they look like square barrels… on a given level. Pursuing you relentlessly are a group of guards who will stop at nothing to zap you dead. No word as to the identity of these blue-chested guards or the location in which you are lode running. Perhaps they are robots. Perhaps they are mad monks, as the 1995 remake suggests. Perhaps they are hardcore UCLA fans and you are simply stealing from the school’s treasury to take it to USC, possibly to fund their basketball program. Whatever the case, they are after you, Mr. NoJumpMan. Your only defense is a zapper gun that can zap the brick floor to either side of you, making those hapless Bruins fall in and get stuck for a few seconds, at which point you can run across their heads to freedom. This zapper is also essential for getting all the gold on a given level, for in some levels the gold is buried or otherwise inaccessible without digging.
Which brings me to the next point: the levels. Specifically, the fact that there are 150 of them! That’s right, unlike about 90% of its contemporary games, Lode Runner does not force you to replay the same level or small collection of levels over and over while the colors changed and the enemies moved faster. Instead, there were 150 different levels, each with its own unique layout, which meant that unless a player cheated or was obsessive (since there was no way to save your progress back in the day), most players never actually got to see all the levels in this game. Add to this the fact that the game even included a level editor (possibly the first game to do so), and suddenly this game got what few other games of its time had: a replayability factor! And not just to improve your time or boost your score, but to experience new gameplay! Thus began the practice of customizing and/or modding games, which has extended the life of games waaay past the time when they may have died otherwise (I’m looking at you, everything based on Quake III or Half-Life) to this very day.
Lode Runner was a very popular and well-received game, and has spawned a lot of sequels and remakes, from the faithfully updated (e.g. Lode Runner: The Legend Returns and its “sequel” Lode Runner Online: Mad Monks’ Revenge) to the not-so-good 3D remakes (Lode Runner 2 and Lode Runner 3D) to the inexplicable (apparently Bomberman was based on the NES version of Lode Runner. Who knew?) Perhaps the best gauge of how well a person may play Lode Runner is his or her performance in Championship Lode Runner, a direct sequel with 50 more levels, each more impossible than the last. If somebody makes it past level–oh, let’s say, one–said person has already spent too much time playing Lode Runner and needs to go outside. Maybe catch a UCLA game.
In any case, if you haven’t already guessed, I heartily endorse Lode Runner. It’s fun, challenging, ever-changing and downright awesome.
Coming up next: side 1 of Disk 14, featuring Caverns of Mars II, Night Mission, Atari Invaders and Slime. See you then!