Lode Runner is an action puzzle game that requires you to get the gold and get the heck out of each of 50 levels. You play as a little dude who can dig holes. Later in the game, trickier levels will force you to dig holes to get at some of the gold, but most of your holes will be dug to trap the guards that chase you, attempting to prevent you from stacking a grip. While the game is primarily remembered as a classic game for the Apple II and other computers of the '80s, a version was also released on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Now, that version has made its way to the Wii via the Virtual Console. It's still a healthy mix of thinking and running, and is worth another look.
In Lode Runner, your little dude can't jump, he can only dig. The two buttons of the NES are used to dig to your left or your right. While most levels are made up of blocks you can dig through, which unhelpfully fill up automatically after a few seconds, you'll also find solid blocks you can't dig through, trapdoor blocks that you'll fall through, ladders, and more. All the while, you'll have three fairly dumb guards on your tail. Their programming is extremely simple; they just run in what they think is the shortest possible line to get you. But because you're constantly scampering around the level, that line changes, so the guards often change direction, hang out on ladders, and generally act stupid. One at a time, they're not hard to deal with because you can just dig a hole, and they'll walk right into it. But if they close in on you, getting away can get a little tough on the later levels.
But it's the levels themselves that give Lode Runner much of its difficulty. At the onset, you won't have to think very much to succeed. But later, you'll start encountering layers and layers of blocks you can dig through, with a piece of gold tucked away at the bottom. Because you can't dig out the block directly underneath you, you have to make sure you have at least one block to stand on and another to dig through. When you're trying to dig down through four or more layers, it gets tough because the blocks you've dug through unhelpfully fill up automatically after a few seconds.
Graphically, the NES version of Lode Runner takes a brighter, more cartoonlike approach to things than the old computer versions. Overall, it looks OK, but as a very early NES release, you're definitely not going to be blown away by its technical prowess. It's the same deal with the sound, which is passable, but not especially catchy or interesting.
In addition to the 50 levels and two-player mode, there's a level creator. Unfortunately, you can't store multiple levels as you could in the computer versions, and you're limited to half the space of a regular level, which is a bummer. At least the Wii version's use of suspend points lets you store your one level indefinitely.
Lode Runner's simple gameplay is part of what makes it so addictive and exciting--even today. Mind-teasing never goes out of style, and the fast-paced digging puzzles you'll face in Lode Runner make it one of the better Virtual Console releases, even if it's not as good as the original computer versions of the game. If any of this sounds remotely exciting, you may want to give Lode Runner a try.