Few video game characters become recognizable outside of their game, gaining install recall when their name is said. Lara Croft is perhaps the most famous female video game character. And her latest mobile avatar makes for the best game you will play on phones or tablets this year.
Developer Square Enix has chucked the Tomb Raider name and perhaps with reason. The Tomb Raider games have always been about combining action, skill, and puzzle-solving. And the Tomb Raider movie highlighted the action part even more. Lara Croft GO is only about the puzzle-solving. But even in that, it’s an incredible puzzle adventure and worth every penny.
And just so you know, there are no ads and no in-app purchases relevant to finishing the game. The only in-app purchase available is a hint pack for solutions to levels, but you don’t need to spend on that when there are video game walkthroughs available on YouTube. So if you’re downloading this game for kids (and yes, it’s safe for kids), disable in-app purchases first.
What’s Lara Croft GO about?
In this turn-based strategy and puzzle-solving game, you play as Lara and go from level to level solving a series of puzzles to get to your goal. Each level has different elements and characters that you need to use wisely. At any point, the path that Lara can walk is clearly laid out and she can move one step at a time; you have to calculate where to step and which order to step in.
Challenging But Not Impossible
The most enjoyable part of Lara Croft GO is how it strikes the balance between being frustrating and being impossible. That’s what the best puzzle games are all about, unlike the hardest puzzle games. You will often curse yourself and this game, thinking it’s impossible to get through a level. Take a break, go do something else, and come back to it: suddenly, you’ll find a way you didn’t consider earlier.
For example, in some levels, you will find platforms that act as levers to open or close doors; torches with which you can scare off snakes to one step behind; and lizards that will follow you around. You might need to use the torch to scare the snake onto the lever, and get the lizard to follow you to another lever, so that you can get through the door. But it’s not apparent at the first go.
That, for me, is the mark of a great puzzle game. It’s what made the original Angry Birds so great, and Lara Croft GO manages to do that more times than any game I’ve played this year.
It’s Tiered, It’s Gorgeous
If you’ve played the Tomb Raider series, you will recognize several nods to the classics, as Lara arches into a graceful somersault while climbing up rocks, or when she finally faces a dragon we first saw in Tomb Raider 2.
This slow ascent of difficulty is wonderful, but more importantly, it keeps the gameplay fresh. In the early stages, you’re just trying to get to the finish. Later, it’s about figuring out tricks to kill enemies, like attacking the dragon with arrow-cannons in the wall, or getting a spider on to the same platform as the moving buzz saw.
All of this is ably aided by Lara Croft GO’s breath-taking visuals. Lara’s movements are fluid like in the games, whether she’s dashing under a closing door or executing a perfect swan dive into the waters below. The low-poly art style works perfectly for the game, giving it a retro feel while still looking modern and polished. It’ll make you say, “I can’t believe this is a mobile game.” And the design of each level is inspired—I was pleasantly surprised by the attention to detail in the background and foreground art. It’s the small things that make a game feel complete.
But Is It Worth $4.99?
Mobile games are now increasingly going free when they launch. Angry Birds 2 (read our review) also adopted this freemium approach, despite being the biggest mobile game franchise and having guaranteed purchases from loyal fans. And yet, Lara Croft GO asks for a substantial five bucks if you want to play it.
Well, don’t think twice, it’s well worth it. I already said that Lara Croft GO is the best puzzle game of the year, but I’d go so far as to say it’s the best mobile game of the year overall.
Let me put it this way: If you planned to spend any money on buying video games this year, then spend it on Lara Croft GO before you think of others. If you didn’t plan on spending any money, rethink your approach, you’ll be missing out on an incredible game.
Download: Lara Croft GO for iOS ($4.99)
Download: Lara Croft GO for Android ($4.99)
Download: Lara Croft GO for Windows ($4.99)
In case you’re stuck at any level, drop a line in the comments and I can offer a hint without spoiling the game for you or forcing you to look up a walkthrough online!
Is This the Game of the Year?
Lara Croft GO is my pick for game of the year, even though I love WWE Immortals, and there are some good titles yet to release in the coming months. Still, if you disagree, what’s your game of the year so far?