Although many worried what the fate of Eidos’s various franchises would be after the British company was wholesale purchased by Square-Enix back in 2009, the consensus these days is that things have never been better for the Tomb Raider franchise. This time around Lara Croft finds herself in a place I presume is known as “The Temple of The Giant Angry Snake” (which definitely isn’t a metaphor), but I can’t really be all that sure. That’s because the first element of Lara Croft GO! (out now, $4.99) players are likely to take particular notice of — with either the game’s plot, or tutorial method — will probably be the app’s near-absolute lack of text (or even pictorial instructions, for that matter).
Upon starting the game you’ll find yourself standing within a jungle on top of a linear grid-like isometric path, at which point you’ll discover that swiping in any direction will — if possible — instruct Lara to move a single grid-space in that direction. As new mechanics are slowly added to Lara Croft GO! they’ll be introduced in a similar fashion, through levels that naturally showcase the properties inherent to the freshly added elements. However — after these new elements have first been silently introduced — you’ll quickly find yourself challenged to use them in ever increasingly clever ways, which actually made the entire experience feel similar to another highly lauded masterpiece: Portal.
Before long you’ll find yourself dodging deadly saw-blades — operating ancient machinery — and avoiding crumbling floor sections like a pro, all while dealing with the temple’s less than savory inhabitants. You’ll quickly discover that Lara can make quick work of any enemy she walks into; at least, that’s assuming she manages to approach them from any side other than their direct front (which will otherwise result in her death). While the early enemies will remain perfectly stationary, later creatures will feature various movement patterns — including chasing, as well as patrolling — that Lara will need to furthermore keep in mind.
Although early on you’ll find yourself either attempting to sneak up on your foes — line them up for a long distance spear attack — or even leading them straight into one of the temple’s vicious traps, Lara will eventually reach puzzles where she’ll need them alive. Your enemies — much like Lara herself — will additionally have the chance to move a single step every time the player does, and their movement — when carefully managed — can be used to trigger vital pressure plates. This turns many of the game’s later puzzles into giant constructs of clockwork, wherein you need to carefully manage multiple elements all in unison (thankfully checkpoints are aplenty, should you mess stuff up).
Although some of the puzzles were quite a bit challenging initially (especially the final struggle with that aforementioned Giant Snake), most of the puzzles can easily be solved with a few attempts and some patient observation. So don’t let yourself be disparaged by Square-Enix offering up complete solutions for $4.99, none of the puzzles here are designed so as to require “Guide Dang-It!” style leaps of logic. What might actually drive you bonkers — however — will be finding all of Lara Croft GO’s hidden vases, although none of them are ever technically required for finishing this finely-crafted adventure.
These jars — which will contain either artifact fragments, or gems — can be gathered up simply by tapping them, and Lara won’t even need to be near them in order for this to work. Although the jars will begin in places where it’s almost impossible to miss spotting them, they’ll quickly begin being placed in out-of-the-way nooks that are only truly visible when Lara is positioned on just the right space. Players can — by successfully completing this vase-based edition of Where’s Waldo — eventually unlock alternate outfits for Lara Croft, none of which modify the game play beyond changing her appearance.
Alternatively — for those seeking a different appearance right off the bat — you can purchase the “Square-Enix Universe Pack” for $1.99, which includes suits based on Just Cause and Hitman. These outfits — which are different from the ones unlocked via tapping vases — don’t offer the player any sort of tactical advantages either, but may well be the only time you’re ever going to see Lara dress up as Agent 47. While this purchase is ultimately optional, I will say that it’s technically far easier to buy this pack than successfully tracking down some of the super-hidden vases placed within the later areas.
All-in-all, Lara Croft GO! is a wonderfully produced experience — filled with many carefully crafted puzzles — that furthermore manages to contain barely any text to convey how everything works. Although some of you might be reticent due to the game’s high base asking price, I can personally assure you that this game is indeed worth every last cent that Square-Enix has requested. If I had even one slight complaint to give, it’d be that you’ve already completed the entire adventure by the time you’ve unlocked the special Midas-Outfit (which requires you to find absolutely every last hidden gem). Perhaps acquiring this outfit at the eleventh hour wouldn’t be the worst thing ever if this adventure was a bit more replayable, but Lara Croft GO! — as amazing as it is — isn’t really quite as interesting once you’ve already mastered all of the game’s many puzzles.
Lara Croft GO! is a finely-tuned series of isometric turn-based puzzles featuring Tomb Raider’s protagonist, and the game furthermore manages to cleverly introduce you to all of its many mechanics without any words or diagrams. Fans of clock-work esque puzzles will certainly appreciate many of Lara Croft GO!’s later challenges, wherein she’ll need to carefully herd her enemies in order to activate machinery for her. Although some of the game’s puzzles can be quite fiendish, none of them will ever be so complex that you’d actually need outside help with them (although a complete answer sheet can be IAP acquired in-game, should you feel differently). About the only downside here is a high up-front price (at least by mobile-gaming standards), coupled with game play that isn’t very replayable once the adventure has already been finished (although I do believe this trip to be worth the cost all the same).