I’m a sucker for a puzzle. Stick a problem to solve in front of my face and you have me occupied for hours. Some of my favourite moments in video games involve solving puzzles; the water temple in the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the Guardians puzzle in Uncharted 3, the whole kit and caboodle that was Myst ;). So given the opportunity to try out a turn-based puzzle game mashed up with one of my oldest played franchises, I was gleeful. Lara Croft GO is a labor of love and homage to the Tomb Raider series that offers up bite sized puzzles that can easily be tackled in sessions on the run or completed in series during an extended gaming session.
Though not the same brand, Lara Croft GO is the “spiritual” successor to Hitman GO by Square Enix Montreal, released in April of 2014. Hitman GO was a critical hit for the small mobile studio, garnering a metacritic ranking of 81. That game was a stroke of genius on how to take a triple-A brand and convert it to an experience that played to the strength of mobile game design while keeping the essence of the Hitman franchise. With the success of this turn-based puzzle game, I expected a true Hitman GO successor to be announced during E3 2015 this year. But when Patrick Naud, studio head for Montreal, hit the stage during the Square Enix press conference, he pleasantly surprised us with the announcement of Lara Croft GO, promising to use the same magic on our favourite Tomb Raider as they did to Agent 47.
Square Enix Montreal learned a lot when making Hitman GO, and that knowledge has been applied in the execution of this new title. It’s not a cookie cutter replica. Gone are references to a tabletop board game. In it’s place lies an underground tunnel of tombs that live in some distant tropical jungle. The art style in Hitman GO was revered and so also should be that of Lara Croft GO but for different reasons. A 3D polygon style was used that harkens back to our polygon-boobed heroine of yore, but polished and colored to resemble a toon shader look and feel. Don’t get me wrong, Lara doesn’t look like her old 90’s self. Her model is the new updated 2013 Lara, more proportioned and clothed. The game is bright and colorful while still giving the feeling of being down in a deep dark tunnel through lighting effects. This art style works well on both newer and older devices. I played the game in its entirety on a second generation iPad and got samples of levels on a 4th generation iPad; the lower screen resolution looks just as good as a retina display.
You will notice that a lot more animation lives in Lara Croft GO: you see Lara walk, fall, handstand and flip while moving around the puzzles. She is not unarmed either. You can eliminate monsters by shooting them (there is no trigger button, you have to approach the enemies properly), throwing a spear or grabbing a burning torch. And of course, if you are going to be romping around an ancient tomb, there has to be climbing involved as well. Puzzles take verticality into account as well as moving platforms, switches, broken tiles that turn into dangerous pits and spinning saw blades of death. All of these new mechanics add a layer of complexity that forces you to analyze your surroundings completely before taking that first step.
When I play mobile games I am often lying in bed or sitting on my couch at very odd angles; slouched with the ipad propped on a pillow or lazily sitting on my knee. It doesn’t always promote for the best hand placement for touch controls or quick movement. I guess I am not alone in this style of mobile gaming posture since the team at Square Enix Montreal did some tweaks to the controls when creating Lara Croft GO. Instead of dragging and dropping Lara to her next space, you just swipe your finger in the direction you wish Lara to go. Doesn’t matter if your hand is in the middle of the screen, bottom left or top right. Swipe left, Lara goes left. This small change made the game more comfortable to play at any angle and also made me move through the puzzles much faster. There were still moments when you had to be precise and tap on the screen to move a pillar or toss a spear at an enemy, but their infrequency made gameplay much more enjoyable.
One thing that I think Lara Croft GO is missing out on is replay value. There is a collecting aspect to the game, treasures that you have to find while traversing the tombs by touching the vases you find hidden throughout the levels. By collecting them all and reconstructing valuable artifacts you unlock character skins. I didn’t find this mechanic as strong as the additional level challenges that were offered in Hitman GO. Having specific tasks like trying to complete a level in a certain number of moves or not killing enemies felt more rewarding when completed then playing a game of Where’s Waldo.
And that leads me to game length. I believe I finished the full game in about 4 hours. Now realize that I am a seasoned puzzle solver and have a knack for creating a strategic plan of attack. Those who are not as strong in this type of play will probably take longer to make it through this game. I also found that the puzzles were a little less challenging than Hitman GO, but that made the forward momentum of the story more fluid and effective, something that wasn’t a part of the previous game’s construct.
It’s difficult to get me to sit and focus on my iPad or iPhone for more than 5 minutes unless reading a book or watching a movie. Mobile games that I usually play are designed for very short play sessions that occupy my time for a brief metro ride. Though Lara Croft GO is design to be played in this fashion, I found myself glued to the game for extended periods of time, itching to get to the next puzzle and find my precious treasure. The superb execution in art style, animation, controls, game play mechanics and puzzle construction is what kept me glued to my iPad for hours on end. If you are looking for a puzzle game to carry with you on your adventures of everyday life, Lara Croft GO is certainly a great companion and well worth the $5.