Lode Runner XBLA review

Another eighties classic makes a welcome return on XBox Live Arcade...

Xbox Live Arcade’s Days of Arcade promotion has come to an end with the release of Tozai and Southend’s remake of Lode Runner, the classic action-puzzle game. Originally appearing back in 1983, Lode Runner was developed by an architecture student for a variety of home computer and console platforms, such as the Apple II and the Commodore 64. It was a huge hit back then, and has been ported over to pretty much every platform since.

It’s a tight, fast-paced game at heart, seeing the player enclosed in a small multi-platformed area, tasked with collecting a set amount of gold in each level. Making matters difficult is a handful of baddies, who are in hot pursuit – the Runner (our dude after all the bullion) has to rely on his wits and a blaster, which can shoot out the ground diagonally to his right or left in order to trap the enemies, to get through each stage.

This central gameplay is time-tested, and akin to other arcade-style classics like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong in its immediate pick-up-and-play simplicity. This translates well onto the 360, with a pleasant, yet not exactly awesome high definition makeover, crucially, the game’s strengths.

The single player Journey Mode offers a sequence of 80 levels, taking place in a variety of themed locales, with each slightly tweaking the core gameplay – the snowy tundra features snow blocks, which cause avalanche-like chain reactions, whereas the cave sections have stalactites that can fall on enemies from above. This action-heavy form of platforming is still wonderfully robust in its design – providing addictive thrills with its mix of swarming AI, challenging level design, twitch-based responses and quick-thinking strategy.

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Tozai and Southend should be highly commended for their love and care in making this XBLA version, which is faithful and exhibits the enthusiasm of long-addicted fanatics. The order of the day for their Lode Runner is obviously quantity and variety; beyond single player Journey Mode, there are 5 other modes to enthrall the prospective player. For those more sedate, zen-like gamers, there is the Puzzle Mode, in which the pressure is off; aggressive enemies are out of the mix, but in their place is a series of increasingly taxing brain-teasers.

The caffeine-junky action freaks, however, can check out the Hang On Mode, a mixture of a collect-em-up and survival, where the player is tasked with catching as much gold as possible from an ever-growing horde of enemies.

In terms of online and local multiplayer, there are co-op iterations of both the Journey and Puzzle modes, with extra quirks and techniques provided by the additional player, as well as the Last Man Mode, a competitive style of game where up to four players must dodge bad-guys and see who lasts the longest. Each mode spins off from the core design foundation in interesting ways, and the game reaches new, socially-acceptable heights once one or two chums are thrown into the mix.

But for those still hoping to spend solitary, bleary-eyed marathon sessions of Lode Runner, there is more than enough content here to satisfy (something like 272 levels in total). The game’s hidden ace, however, is its addition of a level editor, allowing those patient and creative enough to master its not entirely welcoming interface (not that many level editors are, in general) to create their own levels for any of the modes, and share them over Xbox LIVE. Although the mode of sharing is a little unfortunate – players must hook up in ‘share lobbies’ in order to browse through others’ playlists – this is a real boon for the current and future Lode Runner addicts.

And that’s what it comes down to, really. The central gameplay is as simple and inclusive as ever, yet the package is deep, and packed to bursting with content – so if refined, minimalist, old-school games are your cup of tea, then you will be hooked and fully satisfied. However, the uninitiated, and those on the borderline, might be put off by its 1200 Microsoft Point pricetag, especially seeing as so many other XBLA games, like N+ (another tight platform game), current sit at 800 points. Not that Loder Runner isn’t worth £10; it is. But for something so easily digestible and immediately entertaining, it might just be too expensive for those looking for an impulsive fling.

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4 out of 5