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Review by: David Laprad
Published: December 8, 1998
Sometimes we become so engrossed in computers we forget the miracle of games. One afternoon, while perusing a glossy peripherals catalogue and lamenting the fate of my retro-compatible computer, a game arrived that was, in essence, a small miracle. There I was, pondering SLI, AGP and USB when this timid tap on my shoulder reminded me about other, equally important things, such as gameplay, playability and challenge. This title had a legacy that forced me to consider its arguments; it is the sequel to Lode Runner, the classic gold digging game that taught me the meaning of sleep deprivation and poor time management.
Though the series has a long history and seen many incarnations, the core gameplay has remained the same: Players run around a map gathering gold and eluding demented monks. Once all the gold has been gathered a teleporter opens the portal to the next map. It is a simple concept to grasp, but infinitely more difficult to master. The challenge is in avoiding the deliriously persistent enemies, who want nothing more than to protect their stash and hold a lode runner cookout. My first experience was a blocky CGA rendition that held me captive for months. A Windows 3.1 version called Lode Runner: The Legend Returns featured better graphics, but failed to unearth widespread interest. Undeterred, the series’ creator, Doug Smith, and Presage have designed a graphically pleasing and highly addictive sequel aptly titled Lode Runner 2.
The sequel contains the same time-honored gameplay with one important revision: a 3D isometric spin on the classic formula. No longer is the player confined to a flat, non-scrolling screen; rather, maps stretch in all directions and feature true-3D architecture. The design possibilities are limitless and the creators capitalize on many of them. Instead of merely using the graphics to appeal to a 3D obsessed market, they bring fresh dimensions to the gameplay and unleash dozens of head-scratching puzzles. Be forewarned, though, that this game is not for the impatient; trial and error are your trustworthy companions.
There are five vibrant and unique worlds and 75 levels to excavate. The best starting point is Jungle World, because it offers the easiest puzzles. Other milieus include Gear World, a potpourri of mechanical contraptions, Mona World, a realm inspired by classical art, Industry World, a futuristic factory setting, and the visually whimsical Wacky World. The graphics and art are outstanding and bring an important visual appeal to the game.
The maps use all the basic concepts from the original. There are ladders to climb, bars to swing along and bombs to detonate; in addition, the lode runner can dig holes. There are six kinds of bombs; most blast in a specific direction, such as up or across the map, while one super-mega bomb eliminates a massive chunk of geography. The trick is digging and detonating bombs in the right place at the right time, since the bombs and digging only temporarily remove obstacles. Monks and bricks regenerate, so players must move fast or suffer the consequences. This gives the gameplay a sense of urgency that rivals other action titles.
Death comes in four flavors and is a constant concern. Getting trapped in a regenerating hole is a common method, though leaping off the edge of a map into the surrounding void is more embarrassing. Some ledges use an electric field to prevent lode runners from jumping — this is to ensure players get trapped if they are unable to dig the correct path to some gold — though other ledges permit soaring leaps. An icon located on the landing spot indicates if the drop will result in sanctuary or death, though in the heat of panic I am more prone to die.
Touching a monk is a big no-no, and avoiding them is the single most challenging aspect of the game. There are blue monks who are blind and never alter their course, purple monks who engage passersby and black monks whose sole purpose in life is too hunt down and chop lode runners into small, digestible pieces. The AI programming is relentless and reminded me of the little man my father told me lived in the radio. He frightened me and seemed very, very real. The catch is, players can direct the monks with the movements of the lode runner. The game is not about pressing the fire button, it is about making the right decisions at the right time.
The use of power-ups and other items is ingenious and ignites mind-boggling puzzles. There are several dozen items in the game; some need to be used manually, while others have an effect on an existing item. For instance, a pile of bricks might need to be cleared to open a path to gold far beneath, but the standard bomb will not channel that deep. You need the gas can, which increases the depth of the explosion. Of course, there is a black monk in hot pursuit, so getting to the can will not be simple. Perhaps an indirect path will get him moving in the opposite direction. On the return trip, he is back on the trail and approaching fast, so it is time to use the shotgun — just kidding — it is time to use the invisibility power-up. Never mind what you had to do to get that. The game offers hours of challenging fun, a map tool that extends the value even further and a deathmatch mode for modem and LAN users. What more could fans desire?
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