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Lode Runner 2 1998 Review

For this review, I'm digging up an old game from my childhood that I've missed for a long time. See, I grew up playing on a color Apple Macintosh running Mac OS 8, and one of my favorite games was Lode Runner: The Legend Returns (I'll review this one eventually also, because it's a great game). So when they released a new, 3D version of the game in 1998, I was psyched to get it up and running. As it turned out, this one was quite a different game from the one I had been familiar with, but I ended up loving it for entirely different reasons.

Intro level from Mona World
Lode Runner is a franchise that has been around for ages, since 1980, and has a ton of spin-offs and sequels. It's a bit like Pac-man or Mario in that respect--one of the ancients! But it gets far, far less love. This is a shame, because it's a great puzzle game in its own right, and has a fun legacy with a lot of strong individual games (and some not so great). It's one of the few game franchises that has shipped with a level editor from game 1, and user-created puzzles have always been a big deal in the community.

A level from Industrial World

The mechanics are simple: you play as a little dude (or lady, but there's no difference between them) who needs collect all the gold on a level. You can dig in a set number of directions, and must avoid the bloodthirsty monks who will chase you around the level. You can trap them in the holes you dig if you're fast enough, but you'll need to be quick because the holes will grow back after a few seconds. Be careful not to fall in yourself, unless you're trying to get to buried gold!

A very ornate level from Jungle World

Lode Runner 2, which was advertised as the first 3D entry in the series, is neither the second Lode Runner game, nor is it actually in 3D. Instead, it's number 21, and it's actually isometric. Now, having grown up in the golden age of the isometric era, I have a special fondness for isometric graphics and games, and this one does not disappoint. The basic gameplay is the same, but has been expanded to four dimensions, and they've also added some new gadgets.

The select level menu

Like other Lode Runner games, all levels are unlocked from the start, so you can play through them in order, or skip around if you're curious (and leave those more frustrating levels for later!). You can select them each from the main menu here, or jump into the first level, which will take you to a hub of sorts. From this hub, each path will lead you to a different world. The worlds can be played in any order, and there are six of them: Jungle world, Mona World, Wacky World, Tutorial World, Industrial World, and Gear World.

Another beautiful level design from Mona World

The mechanics and enemies are largely the same between all of them, it's just the art that changes, but each of them has a different sort of feel to it. When you're building your own levels, you can pick whichever theme you like best, though I suggest you do this before you start building because the editor isn't very good at swapping the tiles out. The tilesets aren't exactly 1:1, so you can end up losing your work if you switch between them too much. You can't mix tiles between sets, by the way, and while this would have been a neat feature, there's a large amount of variety between them and a lot of cohesiveness, so I don't consider it a real loss.

Screencap from Wacky World. A few would probably consider this horrifying, but I kind of like it

You can save your progress whenever you like, but when loading back in, you'll be taken to the beginning of the level, so you can't really save scum your way through these. However, they're all pretty bite-sized, so playing them over and over, as you'll inevitably do as you figure out how to beat them, doesn't get too tiresome. Towards the end of the worlds, as the difficulty ramps up, they can start to drag more and more, mostly because the size of the levels increase. However, this is only a few towards the end, and you can always just skip them if you want.

Another colorful Wacky World screenshot

The controls that are set by default are terrible, and I just couldn't get used to them after trying them for a while. Since it's isometric, you've got buttons for moving in the four cardinal directions, plus directional digging, as well as use and cycle buttons for your items. The directional controls were weirdly rotated and kept resulting in me running off cliffs and ladders, no matter how hard I tried. Fortunately, you can remap everything in this game, and it stays that way in between game sessions, which isn't always a guarantee with older games, so I don't really have to worry about it any more.

I'll admit most of my screencaps are from Mona World. It's my favorite and I think they're all awesome looking

Once I got everything set up the way I liked it, I found that the level length was perfect for sitting down for about 30 minutes or so and playing in short bursts. There's also that urge for "just one more level" that keeps me going as I play through, and the level design is very creative and fun.

Great little walkway from an Industrial World level

But I'll be honest, the main thing that I really love about this game is the art. Each tile is crafted with so many great little details, and it all goes so well together. The whole Mona World aesthetic is responsible for my appreciation for surrealist art, and I'm really tempted to just use the level editor to make non-playable art worlds. I've got way more screenshots than I'll be able to use in this entry, just because I couldn't stop taking them!

Gear World looks a lot like Industrial World but has some subtle differences

You can find Lode Runner 2 via My Abandonware and other various places online. It works pretty great on Windows 10 and other modern systems, though sound and music are hit-or-miss.

Overall Impressions: Good entry in the series. Excellent art, good gameplay. Controls are a bit wonky, but can be fixed.

Time to complete: You can spend about 5-10 minutes on each level, and there are a lot of them. Once you've finished those you can make your own. You could spend weeks on this one if you wanted.

You'll like this if you like: Puzzle games, Lode Runner, Pac-Man


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