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516 - Lode Runner

Best Games - Lode Runner

The first version of Lode Runner I ever played was on the Atari 800. Then I played it on a Commodore 64. And then on an Apple II. And then on a PC. I just played the Arcade version on a Steam Deck. And then again in a browser.
In every single case, Lode Runner is brilliant.
Developed by Doug Smith, allegedly Lode Runner was based off a recollection of a retelling of a kid’s time at an arcade playing Space Panic and a somewhat failed attempt to recreate Donkey Kong. Lode Runner and Space panic share the ability of the main character to dig holes and have pursuers fall into those holes, but that’s about it. Where Space Panic is an action game, Lode Runner is a puzzle game through and through.
I think that’s what makes Lode Runner so special. It’s a puzzle game, where you might have to play a little action game jazz to arrive at the solution. Juking and dodging are tools just as vital to your success as planning and strategizing. This ain’t Donkey Kong either. Moving in one direction and dealing with threats as they come to you won’t help win a level of Lode Runner.
Lode Runner is a game about stealing gold, including gold that guards might pick it up as they pursue you, escaping, and then stealing all the gold on the level. Sometimes you can approach the level in a haphazard manner, and sometimes only a perfectly precise path will solve a specific level’s puzzle. You won’t know what sort of level you are on until you fail at it a few times. Since the game has something like 150 of the things, you aren’t likely to get bored. And even if you do, Lode Runner has a remedy for that.
Lode Runner is one of the first games that shipped with a level editor. You could make your own levels, or modify the existing ones, to make any sort of challenge you want. The real joy of this feature would be to see your friends attempt to beat difficult levels that you created, unfortunately I didn’t have any friends with an Atari 8bit computer, so I just made weird levels for myself. Not gonna lie, it was still fun.
More important than the level editor, or the hybrid, action, puzzle gameplay was what Lode Runner meant to game design in general. While there eventually was an arcade port, Lode Runner isn’t an arcade game. Lode Runner takes advantage of the environment in which it is experienced. Lode Runner is a computer game. It expects that you will be at home, on your computer. You will try one puzzle room again and again to perfect it. This is one of the earliest games that understands where it is and how that changes the way you play it. Lode Runner is undoubtedly an influence on later home console games like Legend of Zelda, games that are built around a different way of playing. A different pace. A different level of focus. This is a game that isn’t content to only hold your attention for ten minutes at a time. This is a game that knows that you might have hours to devote, and it lets you.
Type Lode Runner into a web browser and go play any of the many html5 versions out there. You won’t be sorry. It is one of the best games, after all.


This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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