Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Lode Runner: Lodes of puzzles

Continuing to say interesting things about Lode Runner is only getting more difficult. I'm still enjoying its puzzling action blend days later, but taking notes on the minutes as I play wouldn't be very much fun for me, and reading a level-by-level playback probably wouldn't be very much fun for you.

It is getting gradually harder, anyway. At first I was clearing about 20 levels per hour. Now it's down to 15, and I find myself running out of lives and needing to restart a bit more often.

The most interesting levels in Lode Runner play like puzzles, where a challenge presents itself, the solution is obscure, and then there's an "ah-ha!" moment as I figure out the trick needed to retrieve an elusive crate of gold, evade a bothersome guard, or otherwise overcome whatever difficulty prevented completion of the level. Lode Runner can broadly be called a puzzle game, though this is a term that gets used too widely. Many so-called "puzzle games" allow their challenges to develop organically - e.g. Tetris - and therefore lack any authorial intent. Others, like Myst, are driven wholly by authorial intent, and are not governed by any consistent set of rules or physics. Lode Runner is the type of game where the puzzle challenges and solutions exist by design, but within the constraints of the game engine. This is, to me, the most satisfying kind of puzzle game, and it's the kind that best lends itself to level editors. The only other game we've seen of this nature so far is Sokoban, which if anything had much deeper puzzle complexity with even less breadth of actions available - just moving and pushing, the latter action being essentially a contextual move.


Anyway, I'm not going to write about every single level as I did with Jumpman. It wouldn't be fun for anyone, least of all me. My approach for now will be to play a half hour at a time, loading whenever I run out of lives or whenever I die on a level where I've saved, take screenshots here and there, and at the end of a half-hour, save my game and write about anything that stood out.

At the end of my last session, level 29 had eaten up most of my lives, but at the start of this one I beat it on my first try, giving me a surplus of chances to clear the next one.


The floating tiers in level 30 each have one or two invisible holes in them, except for the bottom. Consequently, guards tend to concentrate there, making your life hell if you aren't careful. You also cannot reach the upper-left corner, where multiple crates of gold are stashed. To get them, you'll need to kill guards by burying them alive, let them respawn in that corner and collect the gold for you, lure them to the left by standing on the safe alcove to the left of the bottom floating platform, drop down yourself and climb up to the top, and then carefully drop down through the platforms to the lower-right where you can trap the guards and get the crates they drop.

35's another tricky one. Getting into the concentric rings of bricks, ladders, and crates is no problem - you just dig in through the top, but how do you get out? That stumped me at first, but the trick is to observe the guards who start there; they simply climb down one of the ladders, right through one of the bricks, which turns out to be false.

Level 41 was the second place where I lost all of my lives. There are just so many places where you can get flanked and blindsided by the guards, and as it turns out, if you fail to collect the four crates stacked on the left side of the "pyramid" on the upper-left of the board at the earliest opportunity, then you've already lost; there's no way to reach that screen quadrant once you've dropped down from it. The four crates placed on top of the diagonally-oriented ladder segments can also only be reached by dropping through a false floor, which you likewise only get one chance to do.


48 has a couple of mean tricks and it cost me a bunch of lives. First, the S-curving section in the middle seems to be unreachable. In fact, you begin the level falling, and will land on the head of a falling guard, at which point you must immediately walk to the left before he lands. This is the only way to reach that section. Secondly, the smooth-brick section on the left holds three crates, but you must find a way to get in without letting a guard follow you, because there's no way out but the ladder leading in, and no way to trap a guard here.

49 was another terminal level, which were getting increasingly common as my lives stock got replenished less and less frequently. The lower-right quadrant here is a veritable pit of death, with no way out except for a single ladder, and terrain that gives you precious little time to dig and trap any guards that climb or drop in. The lower-left quadrant is even worse, with a false floor above it that lets the guards drop in from either direction, and the only way out is by blasting down the wall next to the right ladder, into the lower-right pit of death where the guards are probably amassed if they aren't in the pit with you. And the two crates on the upper-left of the board can only be retrieved by the guards too.


64 is an interesting trick level. To get the crates up top, you've got to kill guards pretty much constantly, so they can respawn and collect them for you. This in itself can be tricky, as mistiming your digs can get you trapped in a corner as they climb out of your pits and keep coming in waves. Then there's the floating structure on the right. To reach it, you have to kill a guard, let it spawn up top, climb up onto the left structure, and then as the guard falls down the shaft between them, walk across the gap using his head. Finally there's the challenge of exiting the stage; collecting the last crate spawns a latter up the center shaft, but you've got to be able to climb it without running into a guard since you can't dig up there, and that's where they'll respawn too!


70 is another odd one, without many ways to evade the guards, and even fewer ways to trap them. Digging around the donut-shaped structure to get the crates inside and beneath without getting snuck up on by the guards is a problem, but if you can trick one into falling off the rightmost ladder, he'll be trapped in the corner of the screen forever. The weird-looking structure there can be descended by climbing down the ladders - some of the bricks there are false - but there's nothing to save you if a guard gets between you and the ladder leading back into the action.

75 has a nasty surprise. The second row of bricks near the bottom of the screen is full of invisible holes! You can't walk to the ladder structures; you've got to climb from structure to structure by way of monkey bars. And if you drop down, there's a good chance that you'll get mobbed on both sides by guards who drop down with you, falling through the holes into the tunnel. But if you can get them all to drop down with you on just your left side, then you can easily leave them in the dust, exit the tunnel via ladder, and clear the stage at your leisure.

I'm on level 78 right now, slightly more than halfway through the game in terms of level count, but things aren't getting any easier, and I'm starting to feel a bit Lode Runner'd out. We'll see if my patience wears out before the supply of levels do.

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