Review by SethBlizzard

Reviewed: 07/06/09 | Updated: 04/19/18

Go for gold

The Japanese videogame market clearly values the concept of challenge. So much so, it seems, that when a game really gets even them scratching their heads, the rest of the world misses out on it. The reason here being that their particularly devious piece of brain candy might be too much for us to cope with. And you know what? They're right. It's why Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels wasn't released outside Japan for such a long time. Another tricky beast is Lode Runner, namely its sequel, Championship Lode Runner, a game that no casual gamer will walk away from intact.

The original Lode Runner is a puzzle game where you play a little man trying to loot the gold in a high-security vault, all the while evading unpleasant and competent characters. That's what you do in Championship Lode Runner as well, except a more extreme version of it. Championship Lode Runner is called that for a reason. Take every sticky situation you can think of in the original Lode Runner and cram them all into one game, and you'll have Championship Lode Runner. I still think the original Lode Runner for the NES is very challenging. Completing the first levels isn't so bad, but in the later levels it becomes really tricky. Championship Lode Runner makes them look like cakewalk. It's the brain-teaser fan's dream come true.

Championship Lode Runner looks and plays exactly as its predecessor. You still control the little man who walks with that amusing walking sound. The same tune as in the original Lode Runner hums in the background. The bad guys - who still resemble surgeons/aliens/flies - are still out to get you and are as much a pain as ever. The controls are the same, for better or for worse. In a game where quick moves are so essential, the responsiveness still isn't the best. There, however, the similarities end. As I began the first level of Championship Lode Runner, I dissolved the floor and climbed down the ladder, passing over the conveniently-trapped guards, and climbed up the next ladder. Then I stood around, without a single clue in my mind what to do next.

Fact is, most of the levels don't seem playable at all to most people. It hardly seems possible to get most of the gold without getting stuck; if indeed you can get to it in the first place. In the original Lode Runner, you could trap the bad guys in the floor most of the time. This time, a lot of the terrain is solid, so last-minute saves are just not an option in most cases. One false move and you're done for. Rest assured, this is not a game to appreciate lightly. You won't get any appreciation out of it as such. This is a game for challenge-hungry gamers who inspect every level thoroughly. Nothing less will give you any progress in Championship Lode Runner. Every level is a giant puzzle of sorts, and sometimes you don't get a lot of time to form an idea of what strategy to pursue.

Take the first level. To the untrained eye, it seems virtually impossible to do anything. Once you figure out its few secrets, though, you can finish it in a flash. Other levels rely more on the danger of the guards to keep you at bay (the second and third levels are particularly merciless in that area). Other levels are so complicated you might be just tempted to throw caution to the winds and rush after the first gold you see. By doing so you will, of course, have rendered completing the level impossible. Each and every stash of gold is strategically placed, and you will have to think creatively in order to get them. This often includes playing with the amount of time a piece of floor will stay vanished after you've destroyed it. Taking advantage of that is something that should become second nature to you quickly.

Having said that, I still have to berate the game for its controls. Often, you have to stand in the exact right spot in order to vanish a patch of floor, and this often happens at very inconvenient times, especially when time is of the essence as much as in this game. A less severe berth is the loss of the traditional end of a level. In the first game, you had a scene where your little protagonist climbs to the top of the ladder. In Championship Lode Runner, once you climb the ladder is out of the level, that's that, you just get a screen with your statistics. Not that severe a flaw, but it is considerably poorer presentation.

Be that as it may, Championship Lode Runner achieves exactly what it set out to do; to create a spiked-up version of the predecessor. Anyone trying it out should have got themselves familiar with the concept by playing the first game, or you'll lose any interest in the game immediately due to lack of progress. Even if you are familiar with the first game, Championship Lode Runner is unforgiving, and you have to be serious about devoting thought to it in order to proceed.

Being as it is mercilessly (and intentionally) hard, it's difficult to recommend a game like Championship Lode Runner. If your interest in the series is only casual, I would advise you to stay away, as you will have no fun at all with Championship Lode Runner. If, on the other hand, you're a Lode Runner master who thinks he can beat any mission in the first game and are hungry for a challenge, then this is the game for you.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Championship Lode Runner (JP, 04/17/85)

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