Let's Play Lode Runner Legacy

June 4th, 2018 9:00 AM
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Just over a year ago, I shared the trailer for Lode Runner Legacy, the first original game in the Lode Runner series in almost a decade. The game was finally released for Windows in July 2017 but didn't receive its console debut until May 2018, when it was ported to the Nintendo Switch.

The Switch edition retails the voxel graphics style of its Windows counterpart, as well as its multiple modes: adventure; puzzle; and world levels, where players can craft and exchange their own creations. Best of all, its "classic" mode features all 150 levels of the Apple II original! At only $11.99, it's hard to beat.

Still, I have a habit of buying games and never finishing them (or sometimes even starting them!), making me hesitant to purchase Lode Runner Legacy, despite its generally favorable Metacritic score of 77%. Fortunately, the Switch edition offers a free demo that includes ten playable adventure levels and five puzzle levels. I gave this trial edition a spin in my latest Let's Play video.

Legacy plays a bit slower than the Apple II version I remember — but then, I remember playing it with an accelerator, so that may not be a fair comparison. Legacy also features much bigger sprites, and thus smaller levels, than the original — though the game hints at later, more sweeping levels that pull the camera back a bit, allowing for a larger play field.

Although I'm not a huge fan of the art style or the loading time between levels, I didn't see anything in Legacy that would keep me from buying it. I just need to clear some other games off my plate first…

In the meantime, you can hear me rave about the original game in episode #35 of the New Game Plus podcast.

Lode Runner Legacy trailer debuts

April 17th, 2017 8:37 AM
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I waited a long time for Lode Runner to arrive on Xbox 360. I remember listening to Major Nelson's Xbox podcast when it was announced that Doug E. Smith's classic Apple II game was being resurrected with a new installment on Microsoft's platform. It was another year or two before the game was finally released, eight years ago this month, exclusively for the Xbox 360.

In video games, eight years is an entire generation — a time during which Lode Runner has again lain dormant. There have been some very fun classic titles, including 2013's mobile port of the original 150 levels, but home consoles have not seen a new Lode Runner: no title in the franchise has graced the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, or Switch.

This year will see that oversight corrected, as Tozai Games has announced the imminent release of Lode Runner Legacy.

The game features all-new levels, as well as the original 150, now all in 3D. Other features include a puzzle mode and editors for levels, characters, and items, as well as online rankings. The game will debut on Windows, with later releases for Mac and Linux. No console versions are specified, but Tozai promises, "Our ultimate goal is to release a new Lode Runner on every gaming platform available."

I shared the trailer with the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook, where it garnered a generally negative response. "That looks weird to me," wrote one. "They've destroyed the minimalist spirit of the original game," added another; "Adding a bunch of flashy graphic effects doesn't make [it] better."

The reception on Steam has been more positive, perhaps due to the number of fans sent there by this enthusiastic video by Jim Sterling:

Of the two camps, I'm with those who are more optimistic. I agree that the new visual style with large characters and scrolling levels seems a bit too Duplo for me. But while stubbornly sticking with a retro aesthetic might appeal to us old-school gamers, we are the minority in today's gaming demographic; I acknowledge that it's important that Tozai innovate to appeal to a larger audience, even if it doesn't include me.

It doesn't have to be one or the other, though. Look at these two screenshots:

These levels look consistent with the aesthetic and gameplay of the original! Yay!

We've already seen the original game's levels released for modern platforms, though, courtesy the aforementioned mobile port; we need something new. To that end, Lode Runner Legacy's level editor and online features should be paired to give us a truly original offering: compilations of new levels with classic gameplay, much as Championship Lode Runner once did. This kind of world-building and world-sharing was central to the popularity of Super Mario Maker, in which Nintendo took their most popular franchise and added content creation tools. Imagine if we could curate and distribute each other's Lode Runner levels as well!

Overall, Lode Runner Legacy has more going for it than against it. I'm cautiously optimistic and am eager for its release sometime in 2017.

Playing Lode Runner on iOS

January 21st, 2013 1:22 PM
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Last summer, I wrote a convoluted blog post about how Lode Runner Classic, featuring all the levels and original graphics of the Apple II game from 1983, were coming to iOS and Android. I'm happy to report that last Thursday, nearly a half-year after its announcement and three decades since the franchise's debut, Lode Runner Classic has finally landed on these mobile platforms.

Title screen

Welcome to Lode Runner Classic.

I picked up the Apple version for $2.99, played the first dozen levels in both expedition and time attack modes, and was pleased by how little the gameplay has changed. Developer Tozai Games has not added power-ups, extra enemies, boss battles, or other unnecessary flair: the game looks, sounds, and plays in a fashion befitting of its titular adjective. Any additional features are entirely optional, such as a soundtrack that can be disabled separately from the sound effects, a customizable color palette, and speed settings. That last one is especially attractive to me, for as I once wrote for Computerworld:

Over the years, [my family] tricked it [our Apple IIGS] with the usual upgrades: SCSI card, sound card, handheld scanner, modem, joystick, 4MB of RAM. An accelerator boosted the CPU to 10 MHz, which may not sound like much, but it was quadruple the stock speed — making Lode Runner quite a challenge to play. (The enemies moved four times faster; my brain and reactions didn't.)

Options screen

More options than you can shake a stick at!

However, I'm finding Lode Runner Classic challenging even without that increase in speed, due primarily to the interface. There are three ways to control your digger: a tilt mechanism that employs the iOS device's accelerometer and gyroscope; a swipe interface that makes no sense to me (I continuously die while figuring out how to get my guy to move, even after reading the instructions); and an on-screen joypad. The last one is the most intuitive, but it shrinks the gameplay screen to create margins in which to display the controls. Even with this option, I find the "dig" buttons are too large, requiring me to reach too far into the center of the iPad to reach them.

The on-screen controls mode is also the only one in which the "magnification" option is unavailable. This setting keeps the entire gamefield visible while focusing on the action, squishing the parts of the screen where the player isn't and expanding them as the digger moves left and right, up and down. Oddly, since the interfaces that support this feature are the ones where the game already fills the entire screen, they are the ones that are least in need of magnification!

On-screen controls

Here's what the virtual D-pad controls look like.

Despite the limitations (or at least learning curve) inherent to the platform, this is the Lode Runner you grew up with. I didn't hesitate to drop $3 on this game, and neither should you.

If you prefer a desktop version, you can get ZX Games' unauthorized Windows clone, subtitled Classicwards, which offers 75 levels for $9.95. Want an actual sequel with update graphics and gameplay? Check out Lode Runner X, available for Xbox 360 and Android.

Lode Runner Classic comes to iOS

August 27th, 2012 11:28 AM
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Mike Maginnis and I were driving home from KansasFest 2012, half-listening to the Major Nelson podcast, when I thought I heard news of something called "Lode Runner Classic", featuring the Apple II game's original 150 levels. Since this was primarily an Xbox 360 podcast, and I consider Lode Runner one of the best games ever, I was excited by the prospect of a follow-up to 2009's Lode Runner sequel. I love remakes and reboots, but there's just something about going back to the source that can be extremely satisfying.

I rewound the podcast to hear the details I'd missed… and alas: the game was released for Windows Phone 7, a mobile operating system I'll never have access to.

Yesterday, Kotaku ran a "one month later, this game is still great" review. As an aside, the author, Mike Fahey, briefly mentions: "Nearly three decades later, Tozai Games has released Lode Runner Classic for Windows Phone 7, with versions coming soon for iOS and Android."

WHAT?! iOS version? Truly??

The developer's official Web site says only: "Don't worry, Android and iOS fans — your versions will be releasing soon with shared leaderboards, country-code bragging rights and achievements!"

Okay. I can wait. After all, it was nearly two years between when Lode Runner for Xbox 360 was announced and it was released. I just need to remember to breathe. In the meantime, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one excited by this release. Said the franchise's creator, Douglas E. Smith, on the game's official Web site:

When Lode Runner came out on the Apple II, the last thing I expected was that the game would be alive and kicking on platforms as advanced as today's smartphones. It's really gratifying to me that so many people are still interested in the game.

And, as the Kotaku critic commented:

Thirty years down the road I feel I've developed a much deeper appreciation for Lode Runner than I had as a child. This seemingly simple title is actually a rather complex mechanism crafted specifically to hand me my [butt]. I've not gotten any better at it, but at least now I understand my failure is a result of brilliant programming.

Lode Runner: One of the best games ever

May 20th, 2010 10:47 AM
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When Game Informer magazine published its 100th issue in August 2001, it presented the staff's top 100 games of all times. At number #52 was a piece of software every reader of this blog should recognize:

Appearing first on the Apple ][E, Lode Runner wasn't a platformer, didn't have a proper maze, and was levels above any simple shoot 'em up title. With only two abilities, digging or climbing, you had to make your way through over 100 boards — some with mind-boggling configurations. Featuring set traps and loads of strategy, yet imbued with a fast pace, Lode Runner was a true challenge in the early era of games

Nearly ten years later, Game Informer revisited the topic with their top 200 games in issue #200, published in November 2009. A decade of impressive entertainment software was sure to have an impact on the old standings, but Lode Runner held on, slipping to #173 yet remaining on the chart:

My next door neighbor when I was growing up was the only kid on the block with an Apple IIe, so I bugged this kid mercilessly all the time to go over to his house and play games on it. Poor ***. We spent hours and hours in the summer cooped up in his room playing Lode Runner, Karateka, The Bilestoad, Zork, and a bunch of other stuff. I have a feeling he doesn't look back at this time as fondly as I do.

Lode RunnerI grew up playing Lode Runner, one of the first computer games to be ported to the arcade instead of vice versa. Since then, I've bought versions of the game for the Nintendo and Xbox 360, and Juiced.GS reviewed the iPhone version. The added features of these updates — online play, leaderboards, portability, and more — keep the franchise fresh and fun, but the series progenitor had a certain novelty that hasn't been beat: was it an action game? A puzzler? What were the possibilities of the unprecedented level editor it came bundled with? And once I've beaten the game, can I do it again — with the accelerator card enabled?

Lode Runner is a fantastic concept worth exploring on any platform, but especially the Apple II. To enjoy the game vicariously, check out podcast 1 MHz's review of Lode Runner, and visit Tozai Games' Web site for the full history of Doug E. Smith's franchise.