Lode Runner: The Legend Returns

Lode Runner: The Legend Returns
Game Name: (ロードランナー レジェンド・リターンズ (Lode Runner: The Legend Returns)
Media: 1 CD-ROM
Publisher(s): Patra
Developer(s): Presage
Genre(s): Puzzle/Platform
Release Date: March 1996
Serial Number: T-25101G
Region: JP

Lode Runner The Legend Returns ScreenshotDouglas E. Smith isn’t exactly a name that is written large in the gaming Hall of Fame. As a matter of fact, he deserves to be as he happens to be the person responsible for one of the very early platform games – Loderunner.

This game first appeared back in 1983 and its a classic “ladders and levels” game where you guide a character through complex layouts made up of platforms and ladders.

This game isn’t a platform game – there is no jumping here – you can move left and right, climb ladders and drop down to a platform below with no limit to the distance you can drop.

Gold bars are placed around the levels and your goal is to gather all of it at which time the level exit door appears and you complete the level by going through it.

It isn’t quite as simple as that however – there are enemies out to stop you. They are limited to the same movements you are and you must evade them. You are not totally helpless though – you start the game with the ability to dig holes to your immediate left or right into which the enemies will fall. These holes will fill in after a short time , disposing of an enemy (or you) if in the hole. Enemies are replaced after their demise – you will lose a life.

Lode Runner The Legend Returns ScreenshotLevels have to be completed in one go – if you lose a life the whole level is reset which can be frustrating – you are forced into mastering each level instead of just crashing through by sacrificing lives.

The enemies are pretty dumb and their AI seems to work on following the shortest path to you – however when you consider that there are several enemies, and that the level layouts are quite complex, the game is very challenging. In fact it is more of an action puzzle game.

Things are further complicated by the fact that some enemies will pick up a piece of gold , and it must be retrieved before the level exit is revealed. You do this by trapping the culprit in a hole long enough to be disposed of when the hole fills in which leaves the gold for you. Sometimes though the enemies will climb out so you have to time their fall into the hole so that there is little time for them to climb out. Some platforms are made of harder material though, and you can’t dig holes there.

This basic gameplay delivers an exceptionally challenging, addictive and enjoyable game. It all looks so simple until you start playing and these simple rules can present you with some really tough puzzles which would be challenging enough if you had no enemies to avoid.

Lode Runner The Legend Returns ScreenshotLoderunner has been ported to almost every platform – there was even a few arcade machines – no doubt ensuring a nice steady income for Mr. Smith, and amazingly the gameplay is largely the same apart from some extra weapons and gadgets to use – it is equally amazing that such a simple engine can support a seemingly endless supply of levels. As a matter of fact, the very first version featured a level editor. This version of the game has 150 levels and also features a level editor so by 1996 there was obviosly still scope for more.

“Lode Runner : The Legend Returns” on the Saturn gives us an excellent version of the game with great 2D graphics and music. You will be shocked to see how small the animated characters and objects in the game are – but this allows for really big levels. Though small, everything is clear provided you are using an RGB connection.

Each batch of levels has its own graphical style and background music and they are all very pleasing – it has a really neat overall look to it. Some of the backgrounds are beautifully drawn. The music is of a very high quality though there are’nt many sound effects – what’s there is good though.

Lode Runner The Legend Returns ScreenshotThe main difference with this version of the game is that there is no scoring system here – the object is to simply solve all of the levels. You can choose to try and wade through them all with a stock of lives (allowing you to save your progress) with your score simply being the number of pieces of gold you have retrieved. The game also lets you set how many lives you have and what level you are on at any time – this is for those who are less old school. Given the size of this game it is probably just as well this feature is included. In the options menu you can also select from 3 different game speed levels.

The up-to-date reworking of the game has extra gadgets and weapons such as drills for the platforms you can’t normally dig through and bombs, but it is still a pure puzzle game and these features don’t feel tacked on as everything is there for a reason.

There is also a 2 player simultaneous mode that sees you racing to get more gold than your opponent on special levels – there are opportunities for co-op play too – playing bait for the enemies leaving your partner unfettered for a while.

The whole thing feels very understated and low-key. There is no brash presentation – it is just a very professional, well put together game with great control and easy to navigate menus – revealing perhaps its 8bit computer origins (I believe the Apple II was the first system it appered on).

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