The Game: Cavernous rooms are loaded with gold, just ripe for the picking. But before you celebrate hitting the mother lode, look again – there are other gold-diggers homing in on the treasure. What do you have that they don’t? A drill gun that can blast a hole in the floors, into which your opponents will jump blindly. Eventually, the holes will reseal themselves, and that process will swallow your enemies (and you, if you happen to be clumsy enough to wander into the hole yourself). Grabbing all of the gold will reveal a passage to the next level of the game. (Broderbund, 1983)
Memories: Surely one of the “killer app” games of the early home computer era – right up there with anything in the Wizardry, Ultima or Infocom series – Lode Runner rocked my world way back when. I have to limit myself on praising this game, or this page is never gonna finish loading: it buries the needle on the excellence meters in both the action and puzzle genres, makes some of the best use ever of the Apple II’s hi-res graphics mode, and it even sounds good on the Apple (which is no small feat).
The brainchild of programmer Douglas E. Smith, Lode Runner is the quintessential “smart action game,” forcing you to give serious thought to such things as your path around the board, reaching hard-to-reach items, and defending yourself. It’s entirely possible – easy, in fact – to quite literally dig yourself a hole that you can’t get out of.
But it’s also possible to build a better hole. Lode Runner features a built-in level editor, allowing players to design their own levels and save them for later play. Who back then didn’t make a Lode Runner level out of their initials? I know I did. I also discovered that you can’t really expect to put a Bungeling at the bottom level of the letter G and survive dropping down to that level. Multiple levels could also be strung together, in effect giving budding level designers the ability to lay out what we today would call a campaign.
Irem licensed the game as a coin-op in 1984. After Broderbund’s option on Lode Runner expired, Doug Smith shopped the property around, eventually licensing it out to numerous parties. A 3-D version appeared on the N64, though the best adaptations have been the versions for the Playstation (see our review here) and the Game Boy, both of which kept the editing feature intact.
I used to play Lode Runner for hours when I was a eleven years old or so. When I fired up my trusty old floppy to give it a shot again today – and to grab the screen shots seen below – I was hooked all over again.