Lode Runner 3-D
I grew up playing video games. Sure, I know you have heard this a thousand times before from a thousand different writers. We all grew up playing video games. The only reason I am bringing this up is because back in 1983, I was in my game-playing prime. I had nothing to worry about but playing games all summer long. That is why I am so surprised that I don't remember playing Lode Runner. Apparently the game has been elevated to classic status over the years. There have been tons of remakes of the game on multiple platforms. If there was a good game back then, I was all over it. Somehow either I just completely missed this game, or else old age is really setting in and I just don't remember playing it. Either way, this matters not. What matters is that it is 1999 and I have a chance to check out the latest incarnation of the game and decide if it stands on its own merits or is just another lame remake of a classic game.
Let me set the scene. The rich Out-Sector colonies are being raided by the mad Emperor Monk of Pandora. The Emperor has been swiping all the gold shipments, causing all the local economies to deteriorate. Disguised as a rogue trade ship, you must infiltrate the outer defenses, get on the enemy base, recover as much missing gold as possible and kill the Emperor himself. Sound exciting? It doesn't really matter, because this game is all about solving puzzles, not saving the universe. Sure, you will run into a bad guy every so often, but you can't even vape him with your laser pistol.
When I first looked at the box, the thought "lame platform game" instantly came to mind. I figured they took some old school platform game, updated the graphics to 3D, spit out a few new levels and looked to cash in (not that any game company would ever try such a thing). What I found was something totally different from what I expected. There's nothing really like it in the N64 library of games.
After playing for about 30 seconds, I cast aside any remaining thoughts of this being a platform game. This game is first and foremost a puzzle game, with minor platform elements mixed in. I was really surprised, considering this game had stereotype written all over it. You know, a character that you control running around collecting gold, trying to get to the evil boss at the end and destroy him (once again, a plotline that no game company has ever used before). But nope, I was wrong and I am pretty glad that I did give this game a chance instead of dismissing it.
As I was playing this game, I kept thinking that it was a puzzle game, but not in the traditional sense. I almost want to call it an exercise in logic and deduction. When I think of a puzzle game, I think of falling blocks that need to be lined up or popping same-color bubbles. If that is also your definition of a puzzle game, you will have to wipe those thoughts away because the gameplay is nothing like a traditional puzzle game.
I am sure you are now thinking, "Great, then what the hell do you do?" The answer to the question is quite simple. You try to get from your starting point on a level to an escape pod located somewhere else on the level. Getting to the escape pod can be anything but simple. See, all the levels are made up of floor tiles. Some of the tiles are destructible and others are not. You are armed only with a ray gun that shoots diagonally downward. This means that you can only shoot the tile directly in front of you or directly behind you, but not the one you are standing on. Oh, did I forget to mention that the tiles only disappear for a short amount of time and then regenerate? What happens if you are standing on the spot where the tile regenerates? The tile wins and you get to start over.
The puzzle elements start to kick in when you really have to plot your course. It is very important to think ahead. If you shoot out tile A, what is your next move? The developers have programmed in plenty of opportunities to paint yourself into a corner with no way out. It almost becomes funny when you do find yourself with no route for escape because your mistake becomes very obvious about one second after you make it. Panic hits you, usually accompanied by the words "Oh no!" and then death. I found that I did not mind dying too much because I almost always learned something from my death. I would take that knowledge and use it the next time I hit the spot, and knew not to make the same mistake again. Hell, I almost think the programmers put in traps that look like the obvious solution on the surface and trick you into trying it, only to find out that you are screwed.
The game would be entertaining if this was all there was to it, but there is more. Up until now, the only way to move around the levels was by blowing holes in the ground and falling to the level below. What if there is a box or something blocking your path? I say throw a bomb down and watch the sucker blow. Scattered throughout some levels are bombs that will allow you to do just that. It seemed that the bombs were only on levels that required you to use them, so you knew if you came across a bomb it was more than likely at some point you would be bowing up a blockade somewhere. There were a number of different other things to enhance the levels as well. Early on you are introduced to the Helix Lift and the Shuttle Disk. The Helix Lift will lift you from up a number of levels back up to a higher location on the level. This means that a lot of your time is spent backtracking or going over areas that you had seen but were previously unable to access. The Shuttle Disks are transporters that fly you to a different location on the level. This also helps you access other areas in the level that you otherwise would not be able to reach.
Complaints? Yeah, I have a few. First and foremost, the game can get a bit on the redundant side. I really have to be in the right mood to play. To me, playing games is supposed to be a relaxing experience. Playing this game is anything but mentally relaxing. Even though you are solving different challenges, the underlying gameplay is still the same. Also, the control left a lot to be desired. On one hand, it was nice to see you did not have cheap deaths by falling off ledges, but you really did not have much freedom. The game basically played on rails, meaning you could only go one left or right and that was it. There was some wrapping in and out, and there is where the controls were a bit on the unresponsive side. Nothing major, but still a concern.
Here is another of my complaints. The graphics in this game were first-generation at best. There were even some instances where I found myself cringing and wishing they would have just left it out or at least scaled it down (explosions especially). Everything had a really grainy look to it. All things considered, you are not really going to be playing the game for its mind-blowing graphics anyway. You will play it for the mental challenge, but they did not have to make it a visual challenge as well.
This is a fun game that should keep you playing for a while. If you like to be mentally challenged when you are playing a video game, you should enjoy this game. I think they did a great job with the level design and I can almost guarantee you will die a number of times saying, "Oh, I see what I need to do." This game does have a ton of levels (136) but it needs them because once you solve a level, there is little challenge left to replay it. I wish they would have cleaned up the graphics some, but overall this is a pretty decent game that is worth at least a weekend rental.