Giant Bomb Review


Lode Runner Review

  • XBGS

Lode Runner maintains the classic gameplay of its predecessors, adds a few new ways to play, and gives you plenty of levels to work through.

In the ice levels, your enemies are yetis.
Can you put 25th Anniversary artwork on your game's title screen if it's 26 years old? This is the bold statement that Lode Runner on Xbox Live Arcade asks us to consider. This classic franchise that got its start in 1983 on machines like the Apple II and Atari 400/800 doesn't really get as much respect as it probably deserves. It was huge on those computers, and then somehow went on to become big in Japan, too, spawning weird remakes for the Famicom and PC Engine, and even an arcade release. Since then, it's made various appearances on more modern machines with varying levels of faithfulness to the original game's design. For 2009, Tozai Games and Southend Interactive have produced a game that doesn't recall any of the original game's look, but pulls off the gameplay well enough while adding a few modes in the process. It doesn't really work as a nostalgia piece, but the classic gameplay still makes for a quality mix of action and puzzle.

In Lode Runner, your goal is to clear out all of the gold from a level by running around and collecting it. Enemies are also running around the level, and they use basic, exploitable AI patterns to follow you around. They'll also pick up gold and carry it around with them. Your weapon is also the main tool you use to get around the levels--a gun that blasts away blocks, letting you fall through them to get to lower levels. You can also trap enemies in the holes you dig, giving you a brief respite from their advance until they either climb out of the hole or it fills in, which kills the enemy and immediately spawns a new one. The challenge comes from outrunning your foes while carefully digging and climbing your way around a level, taking care to not trap yourself in holes along the way. When you've collected all the gold, an exit appears, letting you move on.

This is one of those deviously simple designs that doesn't sound like much, but the formula is rock solid, forcing you to think on your feet and, above all, keep moving. For the most part, this new version of Lode Runner sticks to the same script that Douglas E. Smith penned when he created the game in the first place, but there are some new additions. The game goes through several visual motifs as you play, so you'll get a set of levels based in ruins, volcanic levels, ice levels, and so on. Special blocks appear in each set, like avalanche blocks that all disappear if you blast just one, or blocks with stalactites hanging from them that drill blocks or eliminate enemies if you cause the spiky rocks to fall. Some later levels also have bombs in them. You can collect bombs and drop them around the map, which causes a section of blocks to all disappear at once. Of course, anything that gets destroyed eventually fills in, just like it would if you had dug it with your blaster. These changes stray from the original formula, so as a purist I'm forced to tell you that I hate them. But, honestly, they do add some decent variety to the game by giving you one more thing to consider while you play.

The game looks fine, but I wish there was some kind of "retro graphics" option.
The main mode is called Journey, and this takes you through sets of levels with limited lives and a score. If you lose all your lives, you can restart from the last level you reached, so you won't lose any real progress if you find yourself struggling with a tough level. There are also additional modes. Hang On is a survival-style mode that gives you a big level with lots of gold. As you collect gold, more enemies spawn into the level, making it harder and harder to survive as time goes on. The amount of gold you can collect before getting caught determines your score. Puzzle mode doesn't have enemies, but instead puts you in tricky situations that require you to think before you move. There are 50 puzzle levels, and they get pretty tough.

One of the great things about the original Lode Runner was that it came with a level editor, giving you the ability to create things just as simple or as complicated as the levels that came with the game. This remake comes with an editor, as well, letting you create levels in any of the different visual styles for any of the game's modes. The editor is fairly simple to use, and you can share levels with other players. However, the game doesn't have a central map server, so to share levels, you have to create a "map lobby" and sit there while other players join, download your levels, and leave. It's a clunky solution to what is apparently a tough development issue on Xbox Live Arcade, but at a price of $15, this game should have a centralized place to download user-created levels.

The game also has multiplayer, both online and off. The multiplayer spans some of the same modes, so there are co-op specific levels for journey and puzzle. This is a cool addition and the levels are designed in a way that actually forces players to cooperate, rather than just letting two players take on the single-player levels. There's also a mode called Last Man that is competitive. It's a survival mode, where the goal is to be alive the longest. It's a neat idea, but it's a little abrupt and sometimes what's going on feels a little unclear.

Visually, the game looks like most other Xbox Live Arcade games, which is to say that it sort of looks like a budget PC game. It's decent, but nothing that's going to make you sit up and take notice. It's probably worth mentioning that the camera tilts around a bit as you run or climb from one side of a level to the other, which I found to be pretty annoying. The sound effects are standard and some of the music started to grate on me as I played.

While I'll always have a fond place in my heart for the original version of Lode Runner and the way it looks and sounds, this is a strong reinterpretation of the original game that pulls off the same tricky balancing act between thinking and running. The only thing that gives me pause is the price. $15 is a lot for an Xbox Live Arcade game, but Lode Runner has enough levels across its different modes to feel like you're getting a good amount of content for the money.
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
18 Comments Refresh
Posted by FlappyHands

Hmm, awesome! I just bought You Know Rush so I probably won't be able to pick this up super quickly, but I think I might just get it! Great review, Jefferson.

Posted by Brundage


Posted by Diamond

Bought the game this morning when it was 800 points.  The game is really solid and has tons of features.  If I were reviewing it on the Giant Bomb scale, at the 800 points I'd rate it 5/5, but 4/5 is appropriate at $15.

Posted by KimFidler

I missed the 800 point mistake this morning and even though I really want to grab this I don't know if I'm going to pick it up at 1200 points.  It does sound like a pretty good remake of a classic franchise though.

Edited by Ouroboros

Definently is 800 points not 1200, or 10 dollars instead of 15.

Edit:  Haha - nevermind, its 1200 - they did a price change; bought it at 800 though.  So if you werent quick enough, I'd wait til they bring it back to 800 or lower.
Posted by AndrewB

They need to drop the Live Arcade games back down to 800 points. I can see larger, original games having a slightly higher price point, but straight-up ports and "re-imaginings" have no business selling for as high as they've started to.


...thinks MS should step up, and lower down the price!  (I missed my opportunity at 800 points cuz of work). 

Posted by RHCPfan24

It's no Rearmed, but it's solid. That's all I need to hear.

Posted by insanejedi

I think $15 is a bit difficult to swallow, but I'm also someone who is not a big fan of Lode Runner. I do have childhood memories of it for the original Gameboy, but I found that game to be far to frustrating and not fun at the time. I think Jeff did a good job with his review striking at each point, but you are obviously a big Lode Runner fan, and maybe you should have established your stance more.

Posted by wrecks

i miss the good old days of 2008 when xbl games were under 1k points...  alas, those days are gone

Posted by Johanz

15 dollars aint much. 10 dollars aint much. It's a difference of 5 dollars. Sure, before every arcade game were 800 MSP. But really, is 1200 so much, SO MUCH that a game becomes crap? Really, Rearmed was released for 800 MSP, and it's a great game and I would easily have payed 1800 points for it. It's that good. Original content (especially like Lode Runner with features a load of features and stuff, like level editor) is easily worth 15 bucks. Think of what you get from a 60 dollar game. Some of the 60 dollar games cant even touch Bionic Comando Rearmed.

Well, I'm kinda rambling, but 5 dollars isn't much. 1800 points, and beyond, then I can understand why everyone is complaining, but still, think of the time, production and value you do get out of a small arcade game for such a low price. It's really a goldmine regardless of which angle. Depending on the game ofcourse. But this seems really solid. It isn't just some retro game with a graphical filter. And those games sometimes went for 800 MSP. Castle Crashers is 1200 points and that sold like gangbusters!

800-1800 price point is really nice for Live Arcade games, but sure, I love my 400 MSP price points too, although that seems unlikely, developers need to feed too. Not every game can be like BC Rearmed and take a hit and still offer a 10 dollar price point.

Edited by piderman

I don't think Microsoft is making any friends with this price change. The blog rating at Major Nelson's went from 5 stars to 1 star (usually the amount of stars is an indicator for how satisfied players (on second thought, maybe the word 'fanbois' isn't out of place here ^^) are with the price point :P). Also all those people who were going to buy it for 800MP will not buy it for 1200MP, even though it's still pretty cheap. Bad move by MS imo.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

Did you ever play that "Mad Monks" Lode Runner back in the 90's?  It had varying level themes too, although it was straight 2D with tools and teleports.

Posted by Media_Master

I'd pay $10 or less for this game, no more

Posted by darkjester74

Weird, I thought for sure it was 800 MSP for some reason.  Ill give the demo a spin, but I'm not a fan of Lode Runner to begin with, so...

Posted by Snail

Looks like some sort of Bionic Commando: Rearmed.

Posted by RobbieBalboa

I picked it up for 1200 micro points  and I'm having lots of fun with it!
Still though I'm a huge fan of the legend returns and i miss all the items they had :P.
Maybe some day they will make DLC and have a couple items you can use from the original.
I don't know about you guys but i would pay an extra 5$ for that

Edited by RedCricketChase

If it still has soulblastingly scary monks who loudly eat you, I'm in.

EDIT: Oh, according to a guy a few comments above me, the version I played as a kid with the monks was a special version or sequel or something.  :(