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I'm edging Lara Croft one step at a time towards a snake. I need to approach it from the side so I can kill it to reach a lever that opens up a pathway to where she needs to go.
If that sort of, but doesn't quite sound like a typical Lara Croft game, then you're right. Lara Croft GO is an iOS title that features the adventures of the famous tomb raider, but in the form of a turn-based puzzle game that seems to have been just a little influenced by the superb Escher-esque brainteaser, Monument Valley, and obviously takes some cues from its predecessor, last year's Hitman GO.
Viewed from an isometric perspective, this objective of this lovely-looking flick-screen puzzler is to simply navigate through series of levels and find the treasure at the end of each one. Lara follows a clear path, laid out before her with dots representing each step forward. A quick swipe sees her take a stride to the next dot, and you can move her fairly quickly and smoothly down the pathway to her destination with deft moves of your digits. Of course, getting to its end is the difficult thing, and where the core of the game's challenge is found. There are plenty of hazards in the way, and negotiating these is what you need to do. In that sense, Lara Croft GO is a very simple game in concept – picking up and learning the game's fundamentals takes a matter of seconds, and then the rest is all about experimentation.
It's basically classic puzzling. There are levers to pull, which rearrange parts of the landscape to connect pathways that enable Lara to reach the end of the screen. There are cracks in the path that you can cross once, but cross again and the floor will collapse, causing Lara to fall to her doom. Start combining those two mechanics, and you get the kind of basic puzzle you need to navigate in the game's first level. There are five in all, each featuring up to thirteen individual sub-levels, which can be comprised of a number of screens.
Things soon start becoming more complex, with deadly saw blades scooting across the floor and climbable walls, moving every time Lara does. Throw in more levers and moveable floors, and suddenly things start becoming very tricky as you work out how to move the blades out of the way so you can pick a path to safety. And then there are snakes to dispatch. You can't approach these head-on, otherwise they'll kill you. Instead, they can be shot if you approach them from the side or behind. That's easy enough to do when you have a pathway that offers plenty of options in terms of approaches, but once that pathway starts getting tight, and you're facing a nest of snakes facing in all different directions, you really need to think about how to tackle the problem of dealing with these reptiles without receiving a deadly bite.
As the game progresses, more mechanics are introduced, such as spiders and lizards that chase you, moveable pillars, and Indiana Jones-style rolling rocks, and very soon screens start to become fiendish to solve. And that's the beauty of this game. It's very well thought out, and while some solutions come quickly, others require some serious head-scratching to figure out. Much of the game's appeal comes when you just know the solution is staring you in the face, but you can't quite work out what to do – but when you finally figure it out, it feels great to have solved the level. The game never feels unfair or cheap – even when, on occasion, there's a little bit of trial and error involved in the puzzle-solving. Overall, the challenges are very solidly designed and are really rewarding to work out, with plenty of joyous ah-ha moments to offset the minutes of staring at the screen with a seriously furrowed brow. It's brilliant puzzle fare in that respect.
There are also things to collect, adding an element of a hidden puzzle game to the proceedings as you search for treasure-filled pots lurking in corners and on far-flung pathways. It's a nice extra bonus that gives a little replay value to the game, once you've solved all the levels.
While Lara Croft GO doesn't offer a huge volume of entertainment – a few hours of play will see you heading through to the toughest levels where, depending on your skill level, you'll likely spend a couple more hours figuring out how to progress – the game is nevertheless of a very high quality, and thoroughly enjoyable to play. To me, it's a perfect iOS game. I've sat with it for an hour or so on consecutive nights slowly, but methodically working through it. I didn't really want to rush it too much, as I wanted to savor its charms and make the most of it. Plus I occasionally ran into a puzzle that really stumped me, and spending some time away from the game helped me approach it with a fresh mind when I re-engaged.
Ultimately, Lara Croft GO is a very nicely executed puzzle game that packs plenty of really enjoyable brainteasers. Yes, it's a little on the short side, but it condenses a huge amount of puzzling fun into its running time. A definite case of quality over quantity - and because of that, it's highly recommended.
ConclusionA very well designed, beautiful-looking puzzle game that, while occasionally fiendishly tricky, is thoroughly enjoyable to play. It hits just the right balance of being tough, but not so difficult that you'll want to throw down your iOS device in frustration: the solution is always staring at you in the face.