Computer Graphics Memory Disk Space Minimum: 486/25 SVGA/VGA 4 MB 12 MB Windows 3.1+ Control: Keyboard, Mouse, Joystick (recommended) Sound: Windows supported sound cards Notes: Will eventually be released in DOS and Macintosh versions. Reviewed version 1.02 on: Pentium66, 16MB RAM, SB16, WfWG3.11, Diamond Stealth 64 with 2MB. Reviewer recommends: 640x400VGA.
So, Sierra's announcement across the back page of several computer magazines early this summer that it selling the return of a legend, LODE RUNNER: THE LEGEND RETURNS, filled me with nostalgic excitement. I had forgotten all about those early days with Championship Lode Runner, but in an instant I began reliving sleepless nights of gathering gold and outwitting the deadly (though rather stupid) monks who were chasing me. Of course, an advertisement is not the real thing, and a call to my local software store produced dead silence. "Lode what?" An almost endless summer of waiting ensued.
Lode Runner: The Legend Returns was released officially on September 1, 1994, and it rented a 12MB space on my hard drive within hours, and I will likely renew its lease several times in the next year or so.
For those unfamiliar with this game, a little background. You are Jake Peril, the Lode Runner, and your job is to take back EVERY piece of gold that was stolen by the keepers of the underground, the mad monks. To do so, you must work your way through 150 screens, 10 groups of 15 screens each, gathering gold and avoiding contact with the monks. Sound simple? Wait.
Actually, the first screen is simple. There are no monks, and the gold is just sitting there waiting for you to gather it. After each piece of gold has been collected, a door magically appears and going through it transports you to the next level -- and here come the monks!
Initially, the monks are rather easy to avoid, and gold gathering rather simple. You are faster than the monks (a distinct difference between this and the original wherein the monks' speeds varied and actually increased as the game proceeded) You have a laser gun that can blast temporary holes in the ground, and the often hapless chasing monks fall into these holes, sometimes wasting several seconds getting out of the holes and other times getting transported to another part of the screen when the hole fills back in before the monk can get out. Either way, you get to put distance between yourself and the monks by dropping them into holes and running while they struggle, or you can reverse your field and get out of a dead end by dropping the monks into holes and walking over them, or, and this is often the most important part, you can collect pieces of gold that the sneaky padres have picked up while chasing you since they will ALWAYS drop the gold they carry when they fall into a hole. Largely, this is how the game is played, and this is how the original was played. And if that was all there was to the game, that would be enough to make it a standout since the original was a classic, and this one plays as well as the original.
But there is so much more!
As noted above, the 150 levels are divided into 15 groups, and finishing one group lets you move onto the next group, and in moving onto the next group, Jake instruction in the use of (literally) and access to some brand new weapon to be employed against the monks. While Jake always has his laser handy, he soon learns to use bombs which he can pick up and store (up to four) in the same way he gathers gold. Placing bombs allows Jake to either "blow away" the monks chasing him (temporarily since they return after being blown up at some other spot on the board) or break a large temporary hole in the landscape, sometimes uncovering "hidden" gold and sometimes allowing our Lode Runner to escape from areas from which he could not escape by blasting solely with his laser gun. Other tools Jake learns to use include Hideout, small caves in the landscape into which Jake can step in order to hide from the monks until they have moved past him or further away from him, Slime Bucket, a bucket of goo that Jake can spread on the ground behind him causing the monks to slow down considerably, a Mad Monk Snare, a Jackhammer, Befuddlement Gas, a Pickaxe, a Spotlight (yes, some screens are played in the dark!), a Transporter, and Large Bombs (get out of the way of these babies!). Of these, only the bombs were tools available to Jake in the original.
As if this wasn't enough to make this a potential classic, Jake can be played solitaire or with a friend. Lode Runner: The Legend Returns allows Jake Peril to be joined by a competitor or an ally named Wes Reckless. Wes can be operated by another person, and he can either race against Jake to see who can gather the most gold, or he can work with Jake in foiling the mad monks. And there is more!
So, you don't like that hard to beat level 24 (it really was a killer), you can skip it and move onto level 25 -- or level 149 if you like. The game allows you to play any level in any order you like. And you can save games. So, for example, beginning with 3 lives, I conquered level 1 and 2 easily, saved the game (now I have 5 lives) and proceeded to level 3, a bit tougher. Not happy that I lost a couple lives, I simply restored the game I'd saved (now I know the key to beating level 3), conquered level 3 and moved onto level 4 with 6 lives (yes, you get a life given to you for every level you conquer). One caveat, however, about skipping around: there are some nifty little animation scenes between groups, and the manual specifically warns that if you skip a level or conquer the levels out of their proper order, you will not be treated to these animations -- or worse, the final scene wherein Jake gets his just desserts for a job well done. Take my advice, go through the game as it was devised. The animations are cute and should be seen.
But that's not the end! I've saved the best for last. Lode Runner: The Legend Returns comes with a Game Generator module which allows you to create your own groups and levels. You have available to you each and every tool that the designers of the original had, and you can generate the most simple or dastardly levels you want -- astound and baffle friends. I've even baffled myself with a couple homemade levels! Imagine surfing the net and finding an FTP site with thousands of levels, some of which may be your own! Gameplay can be endless!
Unfortunately, not everything in Lode Runner: The Legend Returns is wonderful; however, that which is weak in the game is, for the most part, endurable or minor. To begin with, this is a windows-based game, and, as such, it is subject to the typical windows problems: protection fault errors. I have only experienced these twice, and each experience was easily reproduced and easily avoided. When you have lost all of your lives in Lode Runner, you CANNOT restore a saved game. You must leave the game and then get back into the game. The solution, of course, is to not lose your last life. In the Game Generator module, I found that when I was running my video driver in the True Color mode, I could create levels using different backgrounds but I could not load them after saving them. I had to reduce the display to the 256k mode, change the backgrounds and then go back to the True Color mode. No big deal. In fact, there's no reason to run the game in the True Color mode.
Although that was my only bad experience with video, I have read several complaints on the net of people who have had problems loading the game and/or playing the game because of their video configuration. So, that is a concern that Sierra may want to address in future releases or a patch. Otherwise, the display is excellent, the figures moves smoothly across the screen and are responsive to any of the three controller options.
The audio portion of the game is also top rate, though audio is not terribly important to game play. Background music plays from the main menu and during each level. Sound effects are appropriate and clear (I particularly like the squishy sound the monks make lifting their feet out of the tar-like goo and the sounds of the monks beating up Jake when they catch him -- sounds almost like they are eating him) and presented no problem to your author (though here again, there were a couple complaints across the net about sound driver problems).
The game supplies its own windows joystick driver (you may have noticed how few windows-based games rely on a joystick and probably have no joystick driver on your windows system), and your joystick only needs to be calibrated once (see below). A minor inconvenience in this area is that the default configuration is for keyboard control and you cannot save changes to your configuration. Consequently, each time I enter the game new I must configure it to use the joystick. Also, there were a few times I had to quit the game because for some reason the joystick became erratic and/or Jake suddenly developed a mind of his own. Quitting the game, I went back to the joystick configuration program, recalibrated and continued the game. Again, not a major problem, just a minor inconvenience.
In short, any real problems I have experienced or heard others had experienced were problems native to Windows and familiar to Windows users. Some people just don't like Windows. For them, there is a DOS-based Lode Runner: The Legend Returns due to be released some time late this month or early next month, and there is a Macintosh based game due later in the year, too. There is also rumored to be a CD version coming out, but I have been unable to confirm that rumor.
The manual to Lode Runner: The Legend Returns is satisfactory, clear and concise. Installation and setup are easy. And there is no copy protection to hassle about. I was playing the game within 10 minutes of opening the box, and that was not because I was familiar with the original. It's just that simple and that intuitive.
As you may already have guessed, I love this game and recommend it very highly for those of you who knew the original and recommend it highly for those among you who enjoy a challenging arcade/action/strategy game. It is as addictive as Lemmings or Humans or any of that type of level to level game, but offers the additional challenge of head to head play or side by side play as well as the ability to play endlessly boards created by yourself or some insidious other out there on the net .I've owned and played Lode Runner: The Legend Returns for two weeks now. I have gotten through all 150 levels (not as easy a task as I may be making it sound). I have created 30 levels of my own. I am looking forward to the thousands of levels I anticipate seeing posted across BBS's all over the world. The game is that good. And remember, I approached this game with GREAT expectations, having been so immensely pleased with the original, and to my surprise and delight, the game did not disappoint, as is too often the case when we anticipate something wonderful.