I first played Douglas Smith's classic platformer, Lode Runner, on an Apple II computer in 1983. I wasn't very good, but then I was also only ten.
Nearly three decades later Tozai Games has released Lode Runner Classic for Windows Phone 7, with versions coming soon for iOS and Android. The simply running and digging gameplay has aged incredibly well. Me? Not so much.
Lode Runner is a relatively simple game. You control a stick man that must traverse a maze-like level, collecting all the gold before moving on to the next. Stick enemies are trying to stop you, and the only weapon at your disposal is a digging tool capable of removing sections of the ground, briefly trapping your enemies. These pits fill in gradually, so it's possible to kill your stick enemies if you time it right, but they'll just respawn somewhere else and continue their relentless pursuit.
For such a primitive title, the enemies are intelligent and relentless, their combined pathing granting the illusion that they are coordinating their efforts to bring you down. As you progress through the game the enemies become more unpredictable; they aren't simply trying to get you as efficiently as possible. They have an agenda, and figuring out why they act as they do is key to making your way through latter levels.
It's actually rather impressive, the amount of tension built by these ancient stick men nipping at your heels. These days big name developers spend millions on visuals and programming creature behaviors, when these little bastards are making my heart beat a mile a minute.
Lode Runner Classic delivers 150 levels of classic gameplay, playable in both Expedition and Time Attack, providing hours of old school goodness. What it doesn't deliver, sadly, is a level editor — the original game was one of the first to do so. You can change the colors at least.
Thirty years down the road I feel I've developed a much deeper appreciation for Lode Runner than I had as a child. This seemingly simple title is actually a rather complex mechanism crafted specifically to hand me my ass. I've not gotten any better at it, but at least now I understand my failure is a result of brilliant programming.
Lode Runner Classic - $2.99 [Windows Phone 7]