iPhone Game Review: Lode Runner Classic for iPhone/iPod Touch Review
Reviewed by Tom Slayton
Lode Runner Classic is a retro gaming masterpiece from the early 80's. It is a magnificent puzzle/arcade game that requires problem-solving, strategy, and quick reflexes that is rendered almost unplayable on the iPhone due to poor controls.
Waaaay back in 1983, I purchased a Commodore 64. Due to the strident recommendation of a friend, the first game I purchased was Lode Runner. I played it endlessly over the next few months until I mastered all 150 levels. The original creator, Douglas Smith, must have spent as much time designing the levels as he did coding the game because they were/are amazing examples of creativity and attention to detail. Lode Runner starts off simply enough. You are given control of a tiny stick figure that's tasked with collecting all the gold (represented by simple white boxes) on a level. Unfortunately, there is a group of enemies, originally called Bungling Guards, who can stop you with a single touch, further; these baddies will grab gold as they pass over it and randomly drop it or simply hang onto it as they relentlessly chase you.
While you have no means of harming them directly, you are given the ability to blast holes in the ground. You can use these holes to escape to the level below (you can fall from any height) but enemies who fall into them will drop their gold and become stuck, allowing you to run over them and grab whatever gold they dropped. Unfortunately, the holes only remain for a few seconds before closing-up, and the guards will often climb out of the holes before they do. Even if they are in the hole when it closes, they immediately respawn at the top of the screen and rejoin the pursuit.
Success on any given level requires careful planning not only to avoid the guards but to gather the gold and escape to the next level. The early levels are simply a series of platforms and mazes, however, as you progress, you will quickly find that some of the gold can only be collected through planning, reflexes, and cleverness. For instance, some levels require you to drill through 8-10 levels of brick to reach your goal. As you can only drill through bricks that are on the same level of you and on either side, you must ensure you excavate an upside-down pyramid shaped hole that will be large enough to reach the necessary chamber, AND you must do it quickly enough so that you aren't crushed by the holes as they inexorably close above you as you dig. Other times, you must systematically kill guards so they respawn in a spot that is unreachable to you. This will allow them to collect the gold on your behalf.
Planning and precision is key, the latter of which is the reason that the iOS version of Lode Runner fails so miserably. To control your avatar, you are given three options: Accelerometer, D-Pad, and Touch. The accelerometer isn't responsive enough for anything but the first few levels, the D-Pad takes up of the screen (literally), and the touch controls are so unintuitive that even after 35 years of gaming, I couldn't make them work for me. Additionally, Lode Runner is NOT universal so it will not run on the iPad except in 2X mode. I'm hopeful that the controls will be tweaked, but I have no reason to be so as the developer has been silent on this issue.
There have been a significant number of unauthorized Lode Runner clones on the App Store in the last few years, and I have purchased and played them all. Sadly, every one of them plays better than the official version. All of them have since been pulled, and are no longer available for purchase.
While the graphics are clearly retro, they have been re-rendered to be crisp and clear, and as simple as they are, they are literally all you need to enjoy the game.
The sound effects are also retro, and faithfully so. Don't expect to be reaching for your headphones with this one.
In-App Purchases (IAPs)
There are no IAPs in Lode Runner.
Lode Runner is a masterpiece from the early days of computer gaming. Unfortunately, the controls completely ruin the gaming experience for all but the most patient, or for those who simply want to stroll down memory lane.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 4 - Clean and support for iPhone 5 is great, but could use a retina upgrade. Sound: - 4.5 - Great sound effects and a pleasing soundtrack. Controls: - 5 - Conforms to standard tower defense game interface guidelines, and is accurate and responsive. Gameplay: - 5 - Surprisingly deep gameplay without feeling tedious or contrived. Highly recommended.
Playing Hints and Tips:
When a new level loads, don't immediately touch the screen. As soon as you do, the game begins and you won't have a chance to survey the level. Study and learn the behavior of the guards so you can use it against them. Practice chain-digging (the ability to dig long trenches or deep holes) on the early levels when you have less pressure on you. Every level is winnable, but some require a great deal of thought or cleverness.