At our CES meeting with Microsoft, we got our first peek and hands-on time with Lode Runner, an update of the of the classic Amiga and console platformer from Tozai games. Much like many of the more recent classic game updates on Live Arcade, this Lode Runner will feature enhanced graphics, new modes, online and offline multiplayer support, and a nifty time capsule feature to fill you in on the game's storied background.
For those unfamiliar with Lode Runner, the game first appeared in the early '80s and emerged from the mind of Douglas E. Smith, an architecture student at the University of Washington. The premise was, like many of the games of that era, good and simple: You were tasked with collecting gold strewn through a level while avoiding robots intent on stopping you. Despite the simple setup, the game was an addictive experience that resonated with players of its day and has gone on to spawn a small cottage industry of conversions and sequels on a wide spread of platforms, ranging from arcade cabinets and PCs to consoles and handhelds.
This latest entry in the Lode Runner family tree offers three different game modes, journey, puzzle and hang on (the game's survival mode), and a history module for players to explore. Journey, which supports up to two players, is the closest to the original game and challenges you to work your way through a series of themed areas broken up into sublevels. Your goal, as always, is to vacuum up as much of the gold that litters the area as possible without getting nabbed by foes. The puzzle game, which also supports up to two players, lays out a series of challenging levels for you to clear. Finally "hang on" is a survival mode that challenges you and up to four friends to stay alive as long as you can while working. The history module offers a comprehensive look at the franchise and its origins through what looks like a series of text and stills you'll cycle through.
The visuals are getting an overhaul that's a far cry from the game's original ASCII-based origins. The 2008 model Lode Runner is a spry, well-animated dude who faces off against assorted foes that appear to be part of the particular theme of your level. The visuals in the levels we saw are a mix of 3D models and backgrounds laid out on a 2D plane that sways slightly to and fro as you play. The swaying effect, like much of what we saw, is still work in progress but is looking like a stylish update.
While we only got a brief look at Lode Runner on this occasion, we're happy to see the old favorite headed to Live Arcade. The extra modes seem like good additions to the mix, and the visuals are a nice update that seems to tread smartly between remaining faithful to the original and incorporating 3D models. Lode Runner is slated to ship sometime in 2008, so look for more on the game in the coming months.