On this day 31 years ago, Doug Smith's PC classic Lode Runner made the jump from computers to consoles. In doing so, it secured its legacy.
Lode Runner was great fun in its Apple II incarnation; I haven't played it on that platform in pretty close to 30 years, but just a few seconds with a YouTube video of it can bring the memories flooding back: The beep of loading a program, the tiny, fast-moving stick-men, the almost monochromatic graphics. The game did quite well for itself on personal computers of the time, too. It became an industry fixture, an inventive side-scrolling take on previous maze and trap games like Pac-Man and Heiankyo Alien.
When Hudson brought the game to consoles with a port to Nintendo's Famicom (aka the NES) at the end of July 1984, though, the franchise really found its home. The series exploded on Famicom, with no less than three sequels arriving within the space of about three years from both Hudson and Irem. Other consoles soon saw Lode Runner ports as well, and it quickly became as much a de facto release for any new system in Japan as a mahjong or baseball title. When Smith took stock of the series' fortunes 15 years later in an interview with IGN, he admitted that the bulk of Lode Runner's sales had been for consoles in Japan. For whatever reason, he said, it just found its niche there.
Part of that surely had to do with timing: The Famicom was just beginning to take off in Japan, and Lode Runner was the second third-party title ever released for the system. But timing isn't the only factor; publisher Hudson had also launched the Famicom's first third-party game just days before Lode Runner, but that particular title — an oddity called Nuts & Milk — soon vanished into obscurity. Lode Runner surely benefitted from its fortunately release window, but it would never have found so much traction had there not been a great game underneath it all.
Lode Runner isn't alone in finding new life from a change in platforms; games frequently experience a huge uplift in fortunes when they leave behind the shackles of their original platform and debut on new hardware. Perhaps the most famous example would be Sega's Valkyria Chronicles, which never broke out of niche status on PlayStation 3 but became a huge seller years later after it found a receptive audience on Steam. Conversely, Derek Yu's Spelunky broke into the mainstream once it crossed over from PC to PlayStation. I don't think there's an actual science behind which games find themselves ascendent on new hardware, but who doesn't love to see a great idea find the success it deserves?