Lode Runner review

February 9, 2009

With Atari Legend still offline (though currently moving to a new server – hooray!) I am once again forced to pick my own game to review (poor me), so I have picked my favourite ST ninja ’em up: Lode Runner.


  • Lode Runner
  • Vintage: 1989
  • Developer: Broderbund Software
  • Publisher: Broderbund Software
  • Genre: Platformer

Ancient and excellent California based software house Broderbund gave us an excellent and very faithful port of the 8-bit version of Lode Runner some 5 years after its original release. The game plays out over a series of single screen platform strewn levels in which you must collect all objects and then escape via the exit ladder.

Given that the developers had 5 years to convert the game, it comes as quite a surprise to see the 8-bit nature of the graphics (albeit with a splash of extra colour) and gameplay. This comes as no hardship though, as the 8-bit versions feature some tense, fast and furious moments punctuated by some seriously brain-teasing puzzles; a faithful 8-bit port is much more desirable than a version of its poorer arcade cousin.

I'll take that if you don't mind.

I'll take that if you don't mind.

Each level presents you with a bunch of platforms, ladders and monkey bars which you must traverse in order to reach a bunch of collectibles. Each level is populated with goons similarly equipped with the necessary agility to traverse the same obstacles in order to reach you. Luckily, the balance is tipped in your favour by your trusty laser. Instead of turning this laser on your foes, you must use it to carve a chunk out of the ground. Once a hole has been dug you can use it to drop down to a lower level, or to ensnare an enemy ninja (which also causes them to drop the item they are currently holding).

It's a bit like a futuristic Benny Hill show - without the boobies.

It's a bit like a futuristic Benny Hill show - without the boobies.

Lode Runner offers two challenges: firstly, you must navigate through the screens collecting items while being one step ahead of the bad guys. This is enjoyable in and of itself: control is responsive, and the protagonist zips around the levels at speed, many levels requiring you to escape capture by the skin of your teeth in order to collect all the items – exhilarating stuff. Secondly, on many levels you will need to stop and think (time often comes at a premium in this game) in order to successfully navigate a level. This usually involves your excavation laser effectively to reach a well buried item without trapping yourself, all the time keeping an eye out for the ever encroaching hands of the enemy.

The sound is superbly complimentary to the atmosphere of the game: mostly just footsteps and shuffles as you nip around the levels with the occasional orchestral hit to give gravitas to your victories and losses. A satisfying swipe sound accompanies each item grabbed, and the opening heart beat sets the scene nicely.

The goons relentlessly persue you.

The goons relentlessly persue you.

Graphics are basic but aesthetically pleasing and very colourful. More important though is the clarity of the visuals: it would have been criminal for such a fast paced game with tight collision detection to be marred by muddy visuals. As it is though, everything reads well and it is easy to see your game’s status at a quick glance, enabling you to plan ahead on the fly using your peripheral vision: a skill necessary on later, tougher levels.

The editor is on French but easy to decipher for non Frenchies/linguaphiles.

The editor is en Francais but easy to decipher for non Frenchies/linguaphiles.

Broderbund’s conversion isn’t without its flaws: on occasion, the enemies have dropped items (the collection of which is required to progress) in unreachable places, and the frame rate does drop from time to time. I also found the ‘hidden holes’ in the platforms (which look identicle to the other sections of  platform, but you inexplicably fall through) very annoying, adding a bit of trial and error to some levels.

Lode Runner is timeless, mainly due to its fast pace, realistic difficulty curve and tense atmosphere. Longevity is assured with a powerful level editor. I’m really surprised this classic platformer doesn’t get more love.

Score: stickstickstickstick

Further Reading



  1. Never tried the ST version, but spent hours on a CGA one. Lode Runner is indeed an excellent game. One I’d love to have on my DS really.

    Another excellent write-up of course!

  2. Currently, the best way to get Lode Runner on the DS is emulating the Spectrum version using SpeccyDS. Works equally well for Chuckie Egg if you like your platformers fast and frantic.

  3. Hmm… then again I’m pretty clueless regarding running homebrew on consoles and always thought the Speccy controls in Lode Runner were kind of meh…

  4. Spectrum Version was the best I’ve ever played or still play. And now I do it on the DS which works just as good. Just my input.

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