Arriving in 1983 the original Lode Runner was a platform puzzler that appeared on numerous systems of the time including the NES. More Lode Runner games followed on various platforms including Battle Lode Runner for the PC Engine, whilst the Game Boy's entry in the series was Hyper Lode Runner. The aim of the game is to avoid a few enemies and collect the gold that's scattered around before nipping up a ladder to exit the level and face the next challenge. Sounds easy. It isn't.
You begin standing on a platform, ladders either side and many piles of gold are visible. Everything has a basic (but generally clear) design: the gold, the repeated brick pattern and the squat helmet-wearing robot you can see on a platform above. It's not a difficult level, but there are still areas where new players may slip up. The game controls feel natural and work just fine: D-Pad to move, B to dig left and A to dig right. Having two buttons to dig may seem like an over-complication but it works well and you'll soon appreciate that it makes things easier than if you could only dig in the direction you're facing.
Holes can be dug in the brick-patterned blocks and if they are forming a platform you can drop below. The robots get trapped in these holes (even where you drop down) but they soon manage to climb out. After a while the destroyed block reappears and crushes any enemy still stuck there. This doesn't mean one less foe to contend with however as another immediately materialises to terrorise you. This can at times be irritating but sometimes you need the pesky fellas to collect the gold and on occasion you need them to come after you to do this. Should they walk into you it results in an instant loss of life but you can stand on their head when they are stuck in a gap - an ability you will take advantage of a lot during the game. In fact the second level of the game requires you to dig a path down multiple levels for a robot as you trample over its noggin collecting the loot.
Like the visuals the audio in the game is quite simple with small rings and bloops as you dig, climb and fall through the levels. The track that plays on the title screen is a fairly annoying beepy piece but the level music, whilst still basic is surprisingly catchy.
There are 50 levels in the game which should keep players occupied for some time as they try to work out how best to collect the gold whilst also avoiding and/or luring the robots. You can start from any of the first 16 levels (after that passwords are required) but it's a good idea to start from the beginning to get used to how the game works. It's unfortunate however that there is not a batch of easy levels to try out: the game soon gets tricky and then gets even tougher as you progress. As you play (and clear) more levels, it becomes more enjoyable and figuring out a difficult problem is very satisfying, but the lack of gentle learning curve will be off-putting to some players.
Some gold can be collected by simply walking up a ladder or shimmying along a bar to drop on to a platform but a lot is collected by digging. To collect gold trapped within the various brick constructions the digging has to be done a certain way: sometimes a diagonal movement, sometimes as you are walking down a ladder. Get it wrong and you may find yourself trapped in a hole and unlike your helmet wearing foes you can't climb out. You may have to dig in one side then out the other, or maybe back out the original opening before it reseals itself. Whatever you have to do, get it wrong and you'll find yourself trapped with no way out. You can tap Select to quit, but if you were close to finishing the level this is very irritating.
A good way to avoid the frustrations associated with these slight slip-ups is to study things before you begin. Tapping select when the game is paused displays a map of the level, showing where the gold is and where the robots are, allowing you to work out what your best course of action is. Sometimes you may find your plan was hopelessly misjudged but get to safety, bring the map up again and you can hopefully re-plan. Later levels feature false blocks for you to fall through, giving you something else to try and remember. You are also introduced to stages with a second room (requires a key) that provide more gold, dangers and problems for you to try and solve.
It's important to keep a constant eye on where the robots are. It's not unusual to have figured out a way in and out of a place only to find you can't do it before a mechanical menace gets down that ladder and crashes into you. You could trap them, but should you accidentally destroy one you may find that the replacement bot drops in somewhere even more troublesome.
Once you have cleared the game (or grown tired of shouting obscenities at it), there are a couple of other modes to keep you interested. The VS mode allows you to compete against another player on any of the game's stages. You play the levels as normal but there are powerups available that affect your opponents game such as slowing them down, adding a robot or removing all of their gold. This is a fun way to play but it is the inclusion of a level editor that is where most of the replay value comes from.
The level editor allows you to create your own game: up to four levels with second rooms if you wish. It's an excellent inclusion with one big flaw: there's no save function. If you've created something you're quite impressed with, it's disappointing to lose it as soon as you power off the system. Luckily the editor is easy to use, allowing levels to be whipped up quickly and once you've finished your creation it's a lot of fun to hand your Game Boy to a friend to see if they can crack your fiendish puzzles.
The game has clear (though simple) visuals and audio that is basic but inoffensive. Digging for gold is a simple idea that makes for an easy to play title. However the tricky levels mean clearing anything other than the first few is something of a challenge. The lack of a save function for the level editor is a big disappointment and the difficulty of the main game can be off-putting, but persevere with it and Hyper Lode Runner can provide an enjoyable mental workout.