Review: 'Lode Runner Legacy' (PC)

Lode Runner Legacy. Lode Runner Legacy. TOZAI GAMES

The original Lode Runner, released in 1983 by Brøderbund Software, became an instant hit that was praised for its cerebral gameplay and level editor. It spawned a series that ran all the way to 2012 before taking a break, but now the series has returned with its newest iteration, Lode Runner Legacy. Picking the game up now, in 2017, it's not hard to see why the original game was such a hit.

You play as the titular Lode Runner, who is storming a castle full of enemies in order to collect the treasure contained within. You'll climb ladders, hang from rails and blast away at blocks in order to collect the gold treasure. The only catch: you can't jump. The game's mechanics ultimately make it into sort of an action puzzler, where you'll need to think carefully about how to solve each level - but quickly, because enemies are almost always hot on your tail, ready to ruin your plan.

The game's Adventure mode is the standard Lode Runner gameplay across fifty levels of escalating difficulty. It starts out very simple, teaching you the game's mechanics, but it ramps up pretty quickly, and within ten levels or so you're going to find yourself challenged. Level can often take multiple attempts in order for you to see the path forward, and then you'll probably make a few mistakes along the way. The fact that you can destroy blocks below and to the side of you, but not directly underneath you, means that you have to think very carefully about how you dig. It can be frustrating after your fifth time trapping yourself in a bunch of blocks, but it does feel pretty satisfying when you finally get it right.

The enemies roaming the levels are definitely a pain, but with a bit of foresight they can be dealt with, or even used as tools to help you collect treasure and clear levels. Enemies can walk over the treasure you're trying to collect and hold onto it for themselves, and the only way to get it back is to force them to drop down, like you're putting them into a hole or something. Sometimes it's an annoyance, but other times you actually get to use enemies to make your treasure collection vastly easier. The game's levels are usually designed well enough that you come to a solution without tearing your hair out, and you feel accomplished for doing so. It's more addictive than I expected; even as I sometimes got annoyed with how difficult levels were, I was basically unable to stop and quit before I got it solved.

Adventure mode is just the tip of the iceberg, however. Another of your many options is Puzzle mode, which eschews enemies altogether in favor of increasingly tricky level layouts, tasking you with completing them as fast as possible. I didn't enjoy these quite as much, as I prefer the more kinetic, less-prescribed pace of Adventure mode, but it's still a nice inclusion and brings some much-appreciated variety to the package.

There's also Classic mode, which offers the 150 levels that were in the original 1983 Lode Runner, imagined in an interesting 3D visual style that's still markedly more primitive than the graphics of the rest of the game. Classic mode absolutely feels more difficult than Adventure mode; while the first ten levels or so speed by in Adventure mode, the first level of Classic had me stumped for a good while, and it just got worse from there. That doesn't mean it wasn't fun, just that I had to really stay focused. If you're looking for a greater challenge, or if you want to replay the levels you experienced back in 1983, this mode has you covered.

The package wouldn't be complete without a level editor, of course, and Legacy comes with one that I found extremely easy to use. You have a fairly limited number of items you can use, which means the controls for laying them down or erasing them are very simple and intuitive. After about ten minutes playing around in the editor, I managed to fashion a level that I thought was pretty enjoyable to play without being too easy. Saving it and test-playing the levels is also a breeze, though you can't test a level until it has an exit ladder and that's a little unclear. Also, uploading levels to the internet is in an entirely separate menu, which confused the daylights out of me until I figured it out.

Once your level is uploaded, though, it can be selected and played by others through the World Levels mode. This mode allows you to play levels created by other players around the world, with recent or popular ones being highlighted; you can also choose to play random levels like in Super Mario Maker if that floats your boat. The quality of these levels naturally depends on the creator, but the ones I tried out were fun little challenges with nice designs, and they downloaded in just a few short seconds. If the game's popularity takes off, I can see this section filled with lots of really fun levels (along with a lot of terrible ones, but c'est la vie).

The game has a very cool 3D-pixelated (voxelated?) art style to it, which seems to take some inspiration from games like 3D Dot Game Heroes, but definitely makes a knowing nod to Tron: Legacy. It has a retro 80's vibe to it, but is very pleasing to the eye at the same time. The look extends to the menus, the pixelated enemies, and even the characters you create yourself. There's a full character editor included with the game, which isn't quite as easy to use as the level editor but it can still be figured out in a few minutes. I felt a lot more intimidated by this, however, and I ended up settling for some very simple colors on the default character model. It's easier to create your own treasure items, which is also something the game lets you do, because why not? The game's soundtrack has a techno feel to it, also hearkening back to the 80's, which is really the theme of the entire package.

If you're really dedicated, you could probably steamroll through Adventure mode or Puzzle mode in an evening, but it'll take some determination to get through the later levels. You're also score chasing the entire time, with your performance in each level ranked between one and three stars depending on how well you do. I quickly gave up on three-starring every level, but if you really enjoy the gameplay you could probably spend a very long time perfecting each piece of content this game has to offer. And with the promise of more user-created levels to come, you could be playing this game for a very long time - not too bad of a value for $20.

Lode Runner Legacy is a clear throwback to the game and the era that spawned the famous franchise, but it's a history worth celebrating. The classic Lode Runner gameplay still holds up great after all these years, and the new/old coat of paint on top makes it very pleasant to look at as well. The game's 100 new levels come along with all 150 levels of the original game, and potentially endless content created by other players. With addictive puzzle action gameplay and a wealth of levels to play, it's hard not to recommend this title. Just be prepared to have your skills tested.

Final score: 9 out of 10

A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.

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