Lara Croft Go (iOS/Android/Vita/PC/PS4 review)

In case you missed it the first time around, let me fill you in. Lara Croft Go has nothing to do with pocket monsters or catching ’em all. It is available on your mobile phone, but it doesn’t use your GPS or your camera. Instead, it’s a glorious turn-based puzzler that hits just the right balance of simple design and fiendish difficulty, and I love it.

First launched in 2015, Lara Croft Go picked up a stack of awards, including Best Mobile/Handheld at The Game Awards 2015, Game of the Year in Apple’s “Best of 2015” awards, and even an Apple Design Award in 2016. Now though, Lara’s branched out beyond her smartphone beginnings, hitting PlayStation 4 and Vita late last year – and there’s also a version available on Steam. With a budget-friendly pricetag, if you haven’t tried out this pocket-sized Tomb Raider experience, you’ve really got no excuse.

It translates beautifully to Vita, too. Remember how the portable PlayStation was meant to be something you played with on the bus or in short bursts? Lara Croft Go is perfect. The load times are a bit longer than I’d like (especially for the length of some of the levels), but you should be able to fit in a couple of challenges before getting to your stop. Alternatively, it’s a good one for bingeing on – just one more level… just one more attempt to find all the collectibles… what do you mean, it’s 1am and you’re all squinty from looking at a tiny screen?

The touchscreen interface from the iPhone are carried over onto Vita, but Sony’s handheld throws in some older-school controls as well – you can use the left analogue stick to move Lara from point to point, if you don’t want to swipe your screen.

I haven’t (yet) tried it on a bigger screen – it could be fun on PC as a little timewaster between other projects (because nobody plays Solitaire any more) – but I’m not sure how it would actually work on a living room console.

But anyway. The game. Like Hitman Go, which came before it (and Deus Ex Go, which came after), Lara Croft Go distils the essence of a Tomb Raider game and rebuilds it into a step-by-step puzzle game. The learning curve for this one gets pretty steep towards the end – I admit to resorting to a walkthrough for a couple of particularly challenging levels (and, of course, seeing the solution laid out was a resounding “duh” moment).

For the most part, you have to figure things out for yourself. The game never explicitly tells you that spinning saw-blades are bad, or that lizards will chase you, or that cracked ground will withstand being stepped on twice but no more… instead, you learn by experimentation. Stepping in front of a snake will get you killed, but you can take the reptile out by approaching from the side or behind. There are an assortment of opponents or challenges to embrace or avoid, and just as you think you’ve figured out how one works, another is thrown into the mix to keep things fresh.

As you progress from level to level, there are a stack of tricky collectibles tucked around the scenery – tapping these vases will trigger a familiar, nostalgic sound effect that made me smile every time. There are a couple of other subtle Easter eggs thrown in as well – including one character animation that literally made me gasp the first time I saw it.

Lara Croft Go

Lara Croft Go

After all that though, I’d recommend the smartphone version over any of the more recent incarnations. The nature of the puzzles lend themselves most beautifully to the pick-up-and-play handheld experience. It’s something to play in the few moments you’re in a queue, on the train, or anywhere else you might take your mobile phone.

This is not just a puzzle game with Lara’s name slapped on the top. Square Enix Montreal have put in the hard yards to create an all new experience that still captures what makes Tomb Raider so great. The art style is light and perfect, the controls are easy to grasp, and the challenges are appropriately, well, challenging. It’s not a lengthy experience, but I felt it met the perfect point of being accessible yet satisfying. Extra levels have been published since the initial release, which will help give you one-more-turn – and if you still need more, the developers have also released Hitman and Deus Ex in the same sort of style, and we’re hoping there are more on the way.

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