Originally published on PlayStation Insider on January 6, 2017. PlayStation Insider is no longer active, so I have republished the review here for myself. If you would like to see the original post, check out the Web Archive.
I am a huge proponent of quality, mobile games. If a game is up to snuff and cost a few bucks, I think the developer should have their share. A popular genre on mobile platforms are puzzle games. Titles such as Threes, Monument Valley, and twofold inc. are gems on my iPhone that I go back to regularly. Three years ago, Square Enix announced that its Montréal studio would be making mobile games. It was not the company’s first foray into mobile gaming, but the results immediately caught my attention.
I am a huge fan of Hitman GO and was stoked that it made its way to Vita with a platinum trophy. After playing Hitman GO on Vita, I could not wait for Lara Croft GO to make its way to PlayStation. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long. Lara Croft GO is here on PS4 and Vita, with new levels in tow, and was worth the wait.
Lara Croft GO is a natural evolution from Hitman GO. Square Enix Montréal found a core turn based puzzle mechanic and then applied a given Square Enix franchise to it (please give me Kingdom Hearts GO). The board game vibe of Hitman GO perfectly suited the franchise in an oddly delightful way. For their second title, Square Enix Montréal adapted their formula to the Tomb Raider franchise. They ditched the board game diorama design from Hitman GO in favor of a fuller aesthetic. Lara Croft GO sports dense jungles, buried ruins, and hidden caverns that give the levels life. Colors are imaginative with warming oranges and soothing blues blending all together. The modern polygonal graphics tie it all together for a visually captivating game, whether you play on Vita’s OLED display or your HDTV.
My favorite visual elements come from the way Lara moves. Generally, she moves in a standard forward fashion. When climbing off a ledge or going backward, she somersaults with a striking fluidity. Even when I would swipe quickly to speed up the level, I would make sure to stop to watch the graceful animations.
Gone are the specific challenges on each board like Hitman GO. Replacing the challenges are collectibles scattered throughout the levels. Tap the jars to collect gems and statues that unlock different outfits for Lara. Their placement can be blatantly obvious, while some are deviously hidden behind platforms and moving objects. The level select screen shows you how many per level you have collected. This makes completing your collection and pursuing the platinum trophy an addictive delight.
When concerning the actual puzzles, Lara Croft GO is engaging by introducing new mechanics in a well paced manner. I learned the skills I needed in early levels of each chapter. Over the course of the game, it became up to me to master the rules of the game.
For example, one type of enemy is a snake. If you step in front of the snake, it will kill you. Approaching a snake from any other side or using a spear to throw from a distance, allows you to kill it and progress. By the end you are navigating boards with five or more snakes and pitfalls with only one spear.
Puzzles may have occasionally stumped me, but for no longer than 5 to 10 minutes. When I finally solved the puzzle, a clear click of a light bulb coming on sounded inside my head. This lead to a satisfying sense of accomplishment and kept me going for just one more level.
A surprise to myself was the visual storytelling packed into Lara Croft GO. The entire main campaign revolved around Lara exploring an ancient place with a big, ol’ spooky snake following her around. It fit into the world and gameplay without bogging down the game itself. It all wraps up in grand fashion and was a load of fun to tackle. The final levels are worth talking about because of just how much fun they are to play. The whole narrative thread is icing on the cake.
Lara Croft GO isn’t without its frustrations, unfortunately. The port to Vita, the platform I played on the most, has egregious load times. 40 to 50 seconds just to load some levels. I found myself catching up in my Twitter feed, looking back at my Vita and the level would still be loading. Anytime you die or restart a level, lengthy load times accompany it.
On PS4, the game loads instantly. Once you play on PS4, it’s hard to go back to the Vita version. The home console port does have some funky stuttering, particularly when collecting items or moving too quickly. It is a shame though, because the touch controls on Vita make navigating less frustrating than its dualshock counterpart. Plus, being able to chip away while on the go is nice. Thankfully, automatic cross save is enabled. Any time you boot up the game, it syncs with the server to give load the latest save.
This port to PlayStation systems isn’t without something new and shiny. A whole new chapter has been developed by Ko_op. Titled “The Mirror of Spirits,” these new levels sport one of the series’ best puzzle mechanics: mirror paths. On one side of the level is the Lara avatar you have used the entire game, and on the other is a spirit Lara that mimics your movement. The challenge of navigating two characters through two different puzzles kept me on my toes. This level pack provided some of the best puzzles in the entire game, which was a welcome treat to someone who had already played Lara Croft GO on iOS.
Lara Croft GO is a captivating puzzle game. It excels at what made Hitman GO so great and shines with the Tomb Raider IP. Square Enix Montréal should keep bringing their iOS games to PlayStation as far as I am concerned. They fit right in on the ecosystem (particularly the Vita). The new expansion is the best in the game, so much so that I would argue it is worth the price of entry even if you have already played the game on iOS. Lara Croft GO is everything I wanted in the next GO game and is an absolute must play puzzle game.