Review by Eric43

Reviewed: 04/27/07 | Updated: 02/13/08

This game hit the mother lode

Lode Runner is by no means a new game. It has roots on the Atari 5200, Commodore 64, and Apple II. However, of all the games, Lode Runner Online is arguably the most accessible of all the games--boasting over 180 levels new levels, improved presentation and graphics, a flexible level editor, and some new features. This puzzle game is up there with the stuff of legends like Chip's Challenge and Lemmings.

Maybe you've played Lode Runner before; maybe not, but this is what the game's about. This puzzle-action thriller involves playing as the hero character running along platform with a sideways vertical motif--as in you can climb up ladders, get across bars, fall down, and move left and right. The world is split up into tiles, exactly 28 tiles wide and 16 tiles tall, but unlike Chip's Challenge, you move seamlessly across the terrain like in, ya know, real life. Your goal is to collect all of the gold in the level and get to the exit. Yeah, easy right? Not really, every Lode Runner has aliens/villains/bad dudes/demons/sneaky businessmen trying to sell real estate/monsters that will touch you and make you lose a life. Nonsense, these clowns are actually really stupid and can't run fast. You can dupe them by outrunning them, jumping off ledges, and, in most cases, using your laser blaster to zap the turf in front of you. This creates a hole that will fill up in about fifteen seconds, but if a villain falls in the hole, he'll get stuck (possibly crushed, only to respawn elsewhere in the level) and you can pass them untouched.

Lode Runner Online, and it's base version, Lode Runner: The Legend Returns, look substantially different from the other games in the series. Your character is a guy in a white suit named Jake Peril (haha, funny name) and the bad guys are a bunch of evil monks from hell in red robes. If they touch you, they'll tickle you to death and convert you to their pagan religion. Or, probably worse, they'll just eat you. The gold consists of bullion and golden skulls that glimmer at random intervals. The animation is pretty sweet as Jake jogs around, climbs on poles and ladders flawlessly, and zaps the turf with his blaster. But that's not all; this game is so great is that it has one of the GREATEST animations of all time. At any given moment in this game, you can make Jake suicide (if you're stuck, etc.). He'll fall on the ground and do a little seizure flail. If you call yourself a hard-core gamer, you have to get this game just to see this.

Probably the most eye-catching feature would be the environments. The levels come in twelve different themes--the jungle world, the machine world, the purple crystal world, the ice world, the incredibly generic volcano level, etc. The turf and the panoramic background view changes for each level. While this doesn't change the gameplay, as you could literally invoke a texture swap for each level, it's colorful and keeps the game looking interesting.

The gameplay hasn't changed much but it's still enjoyable. You get the gold, run from the monks, use the zapper to clear the floor, and get to the exit. This alone should be enough to create a handful of interesting scenarios (i.e., use the zapper to get through several layers of floor and access hard-to-reach locations). However, there's a lot more toys and feature to play with. First, the floor variety is pretty cool. Besides the standard turf, there are concrete floors that you can't remove by normal means. There's also sticky floors that slow down any character trying to run on them. Also present are some toggle floors, fake fall-through floors, liquid pits, and little caves that you can hide in to avoid the monks.

You've also got a lot of new items to work with. Probably the most common would be the bombs. They have their own inventory space and you can collect up to four of them and use them anywhere you like. This will blow up any regular turf in a small radius and even kill any nearby people. They also have a nasty habit of setting off other bombs in the region, leading to some entertaining "chain reaction" events.

You can also hold one other special item. Probably the most "omg get that item," thing would be the funny gas gun that can be sprayed at monks, rendering them in a nullified state for several precious seconds. This will make you near invincible as long as you're holding it. The second best item would be the snare trap that, when set, would trap a monk in place, never to chase you for the remainder of the level. There's also more mandatory, less convenient items such as the jackhammer that can carve through concrete floors unhindered and the pickaxe that can create a lump of rocks that will prevent people from passing by. There's also keys that you can collect (Chip's Challenge?) that take up your inventory (gotta give up that funny gas, it sucks but you have to) that are required to open the exit door and escape. Not bad. The use of items gives the game a bit more depth; no real need to complain about them.

There's 180+ levels in story mode. You can start from any level you like and continue in an arcade-like fashion. You have so many lives, but you get more by scoring points (aka, getting gold and beating levels). Besides the weak tutorial stages, they grow difficult quicky and require some reflex and thinking skills to get by (you can slow down the game speed to give yourself a little more reaction time). If you're the kind of guy who just wants to start from level 1 and move up the ranks, then you're going to find a lot to like about Lode Runner. A scoreboard is the only instance of the game keeping track of your "progress." But if you want to cheat for fun (and forfeit your high scores), then you can always skip levels and give yourself more lives just by pressing some Ctrl-key commands.

You're probably asking about multiplayer, especially since this game is called Lode Runner Online. Yeah, this game has multiplayer, but for two players only. The second player plays as the blue guy named Wes Reckless (I love lame names). There's a special set of maps for two players and the goal for each is to collect more gold than the other player and escape from the level. It's more of a high-score frenzy since if one player dies, the level doesn't automatically restart. It's best to play on one computer, with the second player using the right side of the keyboard. You can also play online, but it was specifically designed for 56k modems, and as you may expect, it's much harder to use in the day of cable/DSL. Still, if you have two people who like Lode Runner, you'll have fun running around and blowing each other up with bombs.

Oh yeah, the level editor. You can create an infinite amount of single or multiplayer levels and come up with your own puzzles. This is good fun for those with creative abilities and the interface is easy to use. However, one thing I didn't like about this feature is that the monks' "track you down" algorithms don't work well unless you know exactly how they work. The first thing monks try to do is get on the exact same level as you, and in some cases, they will act in an unorthodox manner--either by bunching up on one side of the map or by walking the opposite direction of you. You'll create some perfectly good maps but the monks just do stupid, unexpected things, making the level less interesting than you had imagined and/or near impossible.

Of course, most good games are topped off by good sound. This is probably LRO's most mundane point, as you won't be saying "gee golly, those sound effects from Lode Runner are awesome" any time soon. There's some music that I didn't find particularly interesting--borderline annoying--and I usually turn it off (just like in Windows Space Pinball). The sound effects are okay but aren't that substantial. The zapper gives off a little "kachow" sound, bombs go "boom," and there's even some crunching noises when someone gets stuck in the regenerating turf. Otherwise, there's nothing special going on here.

Lode Runner Online is just another reiteration of the Lode Runner series, but it's just as entertaining as the others. If you're a long-time Lode Runner fan, then get this game. If you've never played any such game before, it's an intriguing sideways platformer that'll give you some enjoyment. However, if you don't like difficult puzzle games, then you're better off avoiding this.

Presentation: 8/10 -- Just some menus with the obvious ancient civilization ruins motif. Also, it's a Lode Runner game, pretty sweet.
Gameplay: 8/10 -- Running around striking the mother lode and avoiding bad guys. Shamelessly addicting, albeit frustrating, fun from the 1980's.
Graphics: 8/10 -- Colorful environments and some pretty interesting characters and visuals.
Sound: 6/10 -- Eh, some unmemorable tunes and sound effects.
Replay Value: 8/10 -- Lots of puzzles, multiplayer, and a level editor. This will keep you entertained for some time.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Lode Runner Online (US, 12/31/95)

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