Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Lode Runner Legacy Review

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Lode Runner is back.  That’s one of those odd phrases I never thought I would write.  While the game has notoriety and the series has continued to release games over the more than three decades since the original, I feel I’m not unique in my thoughts that the original was all I needed.  More recent attempts to create sequels or move the game to platforms that just don’t seem well suited have fallen flat, so needless to say I approached Lode Runner Legacy with a great degree of caution.  One thing stood out, though, the visuals.  I love the voxel (volumetric pixel) aesthetic and with the promise of the original 150 levels, it was a slam dunk provided they nailed the feel.  Lode Runner Legacy also excels gameplay and combines it with a whimsical classic soundtrack that made me feel just as addicted as I did back when I was five.  So, like I said, Lode Runner is back.

If you aren’t familiar with the 1984 Apple II game or the endless ports to just about every microcomputer and console since then, allow me to get you acquainted.  It’s a single-screen platformer with restrictions, and acts as more of a puzzle game than anything else.  Your avatar, “The Runner,” is tasked with collecting all of the gold pieces in a level and then escaping through a ladder that extends once the level is complete.  As you can expect there are obstacles and enemies preventing you from your goal and lets not forget the score, which counts down as soon as you begin in a push to have you speed run each level.  Probably the most distinct restriction is the fact that The Runner cannot jump, so in order to navigate the vertical puzzles you have to combine the use of ladders and ropes on the screen as well as your ability to dig away at the very platforms you walk on.  While this can open up new areas, help discover hiding gold, and capture enemies, it can also get you instantly stuck in a fail state.  This push and pull of figuring out just how to navigate the level while a timer ticks away and enemies chase you down is precisely the draw to Lode Runner, for better or worse.  If you are the type of personality that likes challenge, or you’re just a perfectionist, get ready for what will surely become an obsession.  I recall playing this game for hours on my dad’s Commodore 64 in the late 80s and it’s always held a special place in my heart.

Lode Runner Legacy, developed by Tozai Games, Inc (R-Type Dimensions), re-creates the world of Lode Runner in big gorgeous shiny blocky voxels.  It’s a look I adore with both retro style and reboot games that I first saw with From Software’s 3-D Dot Game Heroes and expected to take off.  Oddly enough, you don’t see voxels quite as often as you would hope, but in the case of Lode Runner Legacy they are a natural fit.  Beyond that the development team has created 50 new levels in an “adventure” mode as well as 50 puzzle levels in a “puzzle” mode.  I have yet to complete every level in both – this is, after all, a difficult game – but from the 60+ levels I have completed I can assure you they hold true to the Lode Runner spirit.  If you’ve played the original, you may notice that the training wheels are on a bit in those opening 10 levels, but don’t worry, the difficulty ramps up as you go on and I fully cop to being stumped a few times so far.  It’s weird to distinguish between adventure and puzzle, but to me it breaks down better if you think of adventure as the campaign and puzzle as the challenge rooms, which basically means I find puzzle harder.  For fans of the original, all 150 classic levels return, this time with a light voxel treatment, but ultimately looking and playing like the game you grew up with.  Since Lode Runner was basically the first game I can remember to start the level creation craze, it’s expected and welcome that a full level editor is included along with the ability to upload and download creations for your enjoyment.  Leaderboards round out the enhancements of today’s technology to prove that even if you are capable of shaving multiple seconds off your best run you still aren’t anywhere near the best in the world.  None of this is all that frustrating for me in Lode Runner, because twitch reflexes and perfectionism are literally built into the design.

I ran into a few issues, especially when playing with a controller, but I think that stems mostly from having a wide range of motion on today’s peripherals where as there were only 4 cardinal directions when the original was created.  Analog sticks won’t be your friend and can often see you doing things you didn’t intend, which is always frustrating but especially so in Lode Runner Legacy.  I found that a classic d-pad was a much better option, finding decent success with my Xbox Elite controller and probably having the best luck with my 8bitDo NES30, which has a perfect recreation of the NES “plus” d-pad.  I also found one of the best options was to play as most of us did back in the day: with the arrow keys on the keyboard.  In the end there’s just no substitute to the classic controls, but again those who want to enjoy from a couch with a controller shouldn’t have problems provided they have a good d-pad.  Also the new graphics style will on occasion have odd hit detection or lack thereof where I seemed to be incapable of grabbing items from a certain angle or died from getting hit where I didn’t feel I was that close to an enemy.  It wasn’t a big deal, but again, this is played with precision by perfectionists so it bears repeating.  There were also canned animations and a slight pause before beginning a level when you choose restart, which adds arbitrary time and can get a bit annoying when repeating a level for the 50th time, but again, light gripe in an otherwise solid experience.

Lode Runner is not a game I actively seek, even with all the clear love I had for the original.  Despite countless hours of play as a child, I ignored most releases since and was disappointed with the most recent offerings that have crossed my path now that I run a retro site.  Lode Runner Legacy is different, it’s a partial upgrade, and perhaps the closest thing these single-screen games can receive in terms of a remaster.  There’s even a first person camera view, which is completely unplayable and forces you to use the classic 2D screen in the lower right corner, but it’s an optional gimmick that I chose to ignore but you may use to impress friends and family.  Lode Runner Legacy brings you back, offers new content, and gets you addicted all over again.  Right now I’m deep in many different games that I’m tackling from the 8-bit days, our game club, and even my modern loves, but Lode Runner Legacy was my night-ending companion for the last week and a half straight.  If you dig old school arcade games, grew up playing the original, or just want something that’s a bit outside of the box from today’s designs, I really recommend jumping into an evolved classic that helped etch my initial love of gaming.

Final Score: 4 out of 5  (review policy)

A review code was provided by the publisher.  Lode Runner Legacy is available now on Steam (http://store.steampowered.com/app/628660/Lode_Runner_Legacy/) for Windows 7+ at a current price of $19.99.  It has been played for approximately five hours for the purpose of this review, but given the robust user-created content and each player’s familiarity with the original, your mileage will definitely vary.

Written by Fred Rojas

July 21, 2017 at 3:02 pm

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