Lode Runner is a name that will likely resonate with older sets of gamers, as the original release saw its debut in 1983 on the Apple II. Praised by fans and critics for its level editor and strategic arcade gameplay, the game kickstarted a franchise that would last through the decades. Though the series has been much quieter in recent times, developer Tozai has opted to bring it back with Lode Runner Legacy, a new entry that aims to pay homage to the roots of the franchise. It largely succeeds in this effort, and though it soon proves itself to be a one-trick pony, this 2018 iteration properly manages to capture the fun and spirit of the original.
Gameplay is simple and arcade-like, tasking you with thinking quickly and critically. The aim of each stage is to collect all the gold and escape on a ladder at the top of the level as fast as possible, while avoiding the many enemies that aim to ruin your run. Lode Runner can’t jump, but he does have a handy gun that’s capable of destroying blocks below him to his immediate left or right, and this is used in interesting ways. Not only do you sometimes have to dig down several levels to reach a gold piece, but this also acts as the only way of fighting enemies, as they can fall into the pits you create.
It’s easy enough to pick up on the flow of stages and it doesn’t take long for things to considerably ramp up in complexity as stages progressively grow larger and more intricate. There’s an amazing variety of ways that the developer has managed to squeeze out of such a simple premise; introducing ladders, monkey bars, and a couple different enemy types means that stages are able to have some leeway in terms of diversity - although it doesn’t take long for a sense of sameness to set into the experience. Levels are generally well-designed - finding that delicate balance between action and puzzle solving elements - the issue is simply that there aren’t enough new concepts or mechanics introduced to keep things interesting.
You start out the game in Adventure mode - a collection of 50 stages that get progressively harder - but it isn’t long before you unlock the Extra, Puzzle, Classic, and World modes. Extra just acts as a small set of harder levels, Puzzle presents a set without any enemies, Classic reproduces the entirety of the original Lode Runner, and World enables you to play levels designed from other players around the globe. If you haven’t taken notice, that’s a lot of content; you’d be hard-pressed to find a puzzle game on the eShop at the moment that offers this much bang for your buck. Granted, it stands that a lot of this content may feel the same, but if Lode Runner just happens to click with you, there’s enough content here to keep you playing for dozens of hours.
The World mode in particular has a lot of pull, as it comes with a full suite of tools that enable you to produce your own levels and the characters and enemies that populate them. The editors for both the stages and the elements are pleasingly straightforward and easy to use, although we couldn’t help but feel that there was a missed opportunity to include touchscreen support here for a Super Mario Maker-like experience. Even so, it’s wonderful to see what the community has already managed to do with this level editor; we played one level as Kirby, running away from Waddle-Dees in search of Maxim Tomatoes, and another as Samus being chased by Metroids.
As you’d expect, user level quality can be a bit hit or miss, but there’s a robust search feature that filter these creations by popularity, level type, creator, and more; granting you a pleasing amount of control over the content you play. And if you’re not of the discerning type, there’s even a shuffle feature that just puts you through an endless gauntlet of levels.
If you happen to have a friend nearby, Lode Runner Legacy also has support for local co-op, even allowing for single Joy-Con play. Unfortunately, co-op mode is only relegated to a select number of levels that are specifically designed with two players in mind and adding another player into the mix doesn’t do much to change the game itself. Even so, it can be a good bit of fun to work with a buddy and try to get maximum stars for each level, and the accessibility of gameplay is quite friendly to newcomers. It would’ve been nice if there were an option for users to make their own levels to supplement the rather small number of co-op stages, but what’s there is ultimately worth a look.
From a presentation perspective, Lode Runner Legacy isn't the most striking of visual packages, but it gets the job done. The voxel character models have a crisp and detailed look to them, but the stages themselves are fairly one-note. Blue blocks and black backgrounds are the name of the game here, and it doesn’t take long for one to desire a little more graphical variety. Fan-made character models and items help this out somewhat, but it still feels like the developer could’ve put in a little more effort towards making levels more visually distinct. The music is similar, it’s a rather ho-hum mixture of electronic music that all starts to sound the same after a little while. Much like the presentation, it fails to impress; there’s nothing here that actively takes away from the experience, but it doesn’t add much to it either.
All told, Lode Runner Legacy is the sort of game that fails to impress, but does enough things right to be properly satisfying. Even though the levels can feel rather stale after a while and the presentation is underwhelming, there's a huge amount of content on offer and the creative suite adds a meaningful dimension to the overall package. We’d give this game a recommendation, particularly for fans of puzzle games. Lode Runner Legacy is certainly not a must-buy, but it also won’t be disappointing if you do opt to take the plunge.