Lara Croft Go
In many ways mobile is a great platform for the distillation of ideas and concepts. By that admission, Tomb Raider is probably not the best franchise for your phone, characterized by its sweeping locales and precision-based action/adventure gameplay. But as a collection of Tomb Raider’s ideals: one woman’s journey and conflict with ancient culture, or at least the traps and beasties they’ve left behind, Lara Croft Go is one of the most satisfying uses of the IP in quite some time.
Following on the heels of the very-similar-yet-less-successful Hitman Go, Square Enix Montreal has taken the bare essentials of Tomb Raider and erected an imaginative turn-based framework for Lara’s micro adventure. Each level is laid out as a grid where players swipe in the direction they’d like Lara to travel. Once Lara has moved one space the rest of the characters and contraptions on the board move one space in response, based on their own predetermined paths or routines – behaviors you’ll quickly need to adapt to.
The best bits of Lara Croft Go are the beginnings of new areas where new enemies or mechanics are introduced. There is essentially no tutorial in the game: you descend into the initial tomb after a pretty basic, elegant cinematic sequence and the game leaves you to it. As you direct Lara from space to space there is a remarkably organic way that mechanics reveal themselves to you. You’ll learn the hard way that stepping one space in front of a tarantula is an immediate death, but you’ll also see how a cracked tile you just left now looks like it’s about to cave in. These are obvious clues in hindsight, however Lara Croft Go has a knack for making you feel clever throughout. Solutions unravel before you in a natural manner, just as long as you make informed decisions about your next move. Although these solutions are predetermined you still feel like an archaeological badass.
The only major issue with Square Enix’s work is the few times when it becomes obvious just how little wiggle room Lara Croft Go‘s puzzles afford you. When puzzles are solved in a few attempts with minimal trial and error it’s easy to overlook how calculated each stage is. The problem is when a solution isn’t initially clear it’s very easy to just slide Lara back and forth from two adjacent tiles just to see how the world around you reacts, hoping to see the exact sequence of moves it’ll take to progress. This is the unfortunate side effect of Lara Croft Go‘s immaculate presentation. If you don’t see the correct path the illusion of choice breaks.
The level design, both in terms of puzzles and actual scenery, is gorgeous. Square Enix Montreal have clearly studied up on the early titles in Core Design’s venerable franchise and found interesting ways to incorporate the majestic scenery of Tomb Raider’s past in a stark, isometric portrayal. Dark shadows are used as highly effective foreground framing devices, creating a wonderful impression of depth and centering the player on Lara and the immediate dangers that surround her. Familiar cultures and locales are mined for new adventures, creating a series of stages that feel as fresh as ever due to their portrayal, despite being steeped in nostalgia.
Lara Croft Go is a thoroughly successful reimagining of Tomb Raider for mobile devices. It is an experience that is imperfect, resulting from its inflexible puzzle design, but it’s that same design’s execution that mostly hides those imperfections (except in the post-campaign tomb). For what it is and what it sets out to do, Lara Croft Go is easily the most fun I’ve had with the IP since Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, which itself was an excellent reappropriation of Tomb Raider’s unique qualities. So, I guess, here’s a vote for more non-traditional Tomb Raider games in the British spelunker’s future.