Broderbund's Lode Runner is a challenging puzzler that, unfortunately, hasn't aged particularly gracefully. Originally released in 1983 on computers like the Apple II and the Commodore 64, Lode Runner feels dated, even for an NES game. It's easy to see the reason Lode Runner was released on so many different platforms over the years — there's a wealth of gameplay with clever level design and a level editor — but there's nothing here that offers anything that today's gamers haven't seen before. Games like Spelunky have expanded greatly on Lode Runner's gameplay; as such, this is only recommended for gamers who want to take a trip back in time to see what we've learned from the classics.
In Lode Runner you have to run around a stage and collect treasure; while you can't attack enemies (which look like fallen mascot Bomberman, as Hudson Soft developed the port) you can dig holes to trap them. Levels design will remind some of games like Toki Tori with ladders, poles to climb and more. Enemies are unusually savvy for a game of this age, using any and every ladder, pole and route to get to you — when you collect all the treasure you can proceed up the ladder to the next stage.
Digging holes is trickier than it sounds, it's very easy to get trapped and if the space closes up it means death; enemies will eventually jump out of the ditch they're in, too. Some will likely become frustrated on the very first level, as there is a very limited view of the large stage and enemies often collide with you, seemingly out of nowhere, as you may accidentally run right towards it. The large amount of enemies and the rather finicky digging system — there were several times we tried to dig traps on either side as enemies were cornering us, only to realize at the last second that digging didn't work that way — quickly becomes irritating. There are some areas that can't be dug, and while this is obviously to add more of a challenge we were actually relieved to not have to fight with our only method of defence. Interestingly, players can select any of the levels from the start by pressing select and toggling through the 50 available. Good luck attempting one of the later levels first, though — with the steep learning curve, we recommend starting from the beginning.
Lode Runner also has a level editor. It's highly impressive for an NES game, and while it's limited — user-created levels are smaller than regular levels --it is a lot of fun to play around with. Unfortunately, created levels can't be saved; it would have been nice for the Virtual Console release to include a level save feature, but it's hard to fault the game for this.
The presentation of Lode Runner is extremely basic. There are very few colours with a black background, orange bricks and white ladders. The music began to grate on us very quickly, and getting killed prompts an annoying little death song that will have some lowering the volume on their televisions and GamePads.
Lode Runner isn't a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It's just old. For game history buffs, fans of puzzle platforming games and speed runners, Lode Runner might be a fun purchase; the Virtual Console's restore point feature certainly makes things a bit easier. If you are easily frustrated by steep difficulty curves and archaic presentation, however, Lode Runner is perhaps too dated to justify a download.