Twenty-five years before LittleBigPlanet, there was Lode Runner, one of the first games to include a level editor. (Kids on commission reportedly built some of the game’s original levels with the editor.) The title has been reborn more than once; few gaming systems have been bereft of a port. The latest iteration appears on Xbox Live Arcade, and while it bears a few unnecessary “modern” touches, the core game remains rock-solid.
Character animation and backgrounds are now more detailed than ever, even bordering on overwrought, but you’re still a little guy trying to collect gold as relentless pursuers give chase. The character can’t jump, but on most terrain, can dig pits to his left and right. These provide quick routes so he can drop down to lower platforms, and trap enemies who walk into the holes. The pits will eventually grow back into solid ground, temporarily killing anything (enemy or hero) trapped within.
Among Lode Runner’s most notable achievements was making lousy AI into a feature. This hasn’t been fixed. Dumb enemies climb up or down ladders to reach your vertical position, and are easily herded into traps and dead ends. This is an integral part of the game, as you’re required to quickly evaluate a large, multi-platform environment decorated with ladders, indestructible terrain, and collectible gold, then plot a path while evading or trapping determined (and uncomfortably speedy) assassins.
This version clutters up the landscape with wacky new terrain (lava pits, piles of snow that melt away en masse, etc.) but at worst, these merely intrude on the purity of the elegant, classic formula. (Which, in fairness, always featured invisible pitfalls.)
Beyond the game: Original publisher Brøderbund tried to tie the first iteration of Lode Runner to its other games by declaring the enemies part of the Bungeling Empire, the same antagonists from Choplifter and Will Wright’s debut game, Raid On Bungeling Bay.
Worth playing for: The core puzzle/action combo, which demands a fast-paced puzzle-solving ability that remains rare in gaming.
Frustration sets in when: You have to directly connect with other users in share lobbies to trade user-created levels. The upshot is that the editor is intuitive, and can be used to remake the original classic levels.
Final judgment: A gaming milestone is treated with respect and given an acceptable latter-day spit-shine.