Real gold does not lose its shine.
Lode Runner can be considered one of the first puzzle games from the third generation (many consider it the second) of popular home consoles (a.k.a., the NES era) that has spawned ports on just about every other console during its time and, well, now (Nintendo DS, iPod). Solidly based on past arcade classics, Lode Runner propelled itself as a seminal puzzle game, with smart levels and hectic action that set itself apart from the slower-paced, more strategic puzzlers of its time. So when SouthEnd Interactive, the studio behind Commanders: Attack of the Genos and R-Type Dimensions, decided to bring Lode Runner to Xbox 360's Live Arcade, they had their work cut out for them.
[image1]Fortunately, the new Lode Runner is just as fun as it was twenty-something years ago. We get 80 hard-as-nails levels in the single-player Journey Mode, and a co-op mode - local or on-line - doubles the frantic gold-collecting potential. Yes, gold. Just like the common conquistador, Wild Westerner, and money-grubbing millionaire's wife, Lode Runner's nameless hero is after the precious aurum, swinging from vines, climbing ladders, and running out the exit.
Not all is as simple as just grabbing the amber metal, though, since every level is riddled with enemies that will relentlessly pursue the robber. We can just shoot them, then, right? Wrong. The gold nabber is so cheap, that he saved pocket space by not bringing a gun, but an arm-mounted ground blaster, which destroys certain types of blocks in the level that can trap these enemies for a certain period of time. The trick, however, is figuring out when to use this, since it can also function as your own death sentence if you happen to fall into the hole you made, as blasted blocks generate quickly. The fast pace of Lode Runnner means that you have to make decisions on-the-fly, making it a very challenging but rewarding game.
[image2]If you are the sort who likes to steal without having to worry about angry natives and likes to focus instead on the environment as the obstacle, then Puzzle mode will satisfy your craving with 50 unique puzzles. There is also the Hang-On mode, which turns the tables, increasing the number of enemies standing in your way of reaching the gold. This serves more as a catch-me-if-you-can cat-and-mouse chase game than anything else, boiling down to how long you can outrun the enemies than navigating obstacles.
The aforementioned co-op mode for both Puzzle and Journey modes aren't the only options for multiplayer. Last Man is heavily inspired by Pac-Man, pitting up to four gold nabbers against each other, with the catch that once they are touched by the enemy, they switch sides and chase the remaining players as enemies themselves. The premise is interesting for a multiplayer game, but it doesn't fit with the Load Runner vibe. Finding a game to play online might also prove to be a challenge, with a sparingly few number of matches - player or ranked - open within less than a week since the game has been released.
[image3]Following the tradition of past Lode Runner re-imaginings, this version receives a graphical overhaul that is hit-or-miss. The main character has a pseudo-futuristic, generic-looking design that is not memorable at all. The five level types, however, do look interesting, each with their own kind of enemy natives. But what proves to be distraction is how the camera constantly shifts, as if the level is floating about. The graphics also tend to muddle together when the camera is pulled out too far, becoming confusing in levels that require more zoom-out.
As with the recent crop of downloadable games, Lode Runner provides a relatively complex level editor, but is unfortunately not user-friendly, without any clear instructions. Even for a level editor that is for the layman, it requires a lot of pre-existing knowledge of level builders on your part. On a good note, this editor allows the download of additional puzzles created and uploaded online by other players.
Lode Runner proves than an old game can still breathe on a new pair of lungs. While it does not introduce many new twists to the established formula (the multiplayer modes re-hash the basic core Lode Runner gameplay), the style of play that the series started is still unique and fun, and can surely appeal to the new generation of players.