Ages ago, back when I was using a Windows Phone because of the Zune music service (another great idea Microsoft abandoned even though they had the better service over Spotify AND Apple Music) one of the first mobile games I paid to play was Hitman Go, and I very much loved it. It was set up like a board game on a diorama with little plastic figurines, and while there was some light puzzling to it, I didn’t have too much trouble breezing through its levels. Even so I came away feeling pretty positive about it aside from some finicky control issues.
When Lara Croft Go came out, I put it in my Want To Play list, but as so often happens, I forgot it existed until it recently got pulled off the market. When it got put back up for sale a few months later, I said, “No, this time, I’m going to buy it.” So I did, and I’ll say right upfront, this could have been a 5 star game. It loses a star for stupid greedy reasons, but I’ll get to that in due time.
The first thing to know about Lara Croft Go is, the designers altered the formula to be less of a board game, and more of a puzzle game. And let me tell you, some of those puzzles are real brain ticklers. I played several levels where I had to put the phone down and come back to it with fresh eyes the next day. One level near the very end had me so perplexed I surrendered and went to watch a YouTuber try it, and seeing them fail the same way I did actually made me realize what I was missing, so I closed the video, went back to the game, and nailed the solution on the first (twenty-first, is more accurate) try. So when I say this game is a joy for puzzle lovers, I mean, this is going to really test whether you are paying attention or not.
The story is unimportant, just Lara going into a ruin to look for a treasure. There’s no dialogue to explain this, just a few short cut scenes to establish the basic plot. If you’ve played any of Lara’s games, you already know the drill. She’s going to fight ridiculous monsters, evade traps, and find mystical artifacts that make zero sense. None of this is a complaint, by the by.
Lara is pursued by a giant snake monster for the better portion of the game, but along with that, there’s traps, cobras, komodo dragons, and giant spiders. They all have their own rules about how they move on the level, and to counter them, there are spears, torches, moveable columns, or just using the traps against the enemies. All of this is wonderful, especially because the game sometimes puts in false flags, or stuff not relevant to the puzzle, but that might make you think they are. So you spend ten, fifteen minutes trying to work with this element before going, “Duh, this is a red herring!” I loved it.
Then there’s the gems and artifacts to collect by finding hidden jars in each level. Oh, my God, these are so tricky in some levels. Like I had to play them over and over until I finally realized, No that isn’t a column, it’s a treasure jar. And this is the brilliant design choice that I both love and hate. The game says, “Oh, sure, you solved the puzzle to reach the exit. Good for you! But…BUT, you still missed all four treasures.”
And sure, I could just move on and get to the end of the game. But if I go back and find all the artifacts, Lara can get a new bomber jacket. Who doesn’t love bomber jackets? I know I do. So yeah, they got me on the hook to hunt down every treasure and gem, just so I can collect a couple more digital doodads.
There’s not really much music aside from occasional stingers, so the sound design is really just ambient noise, but that also works to the game’s advantage. It’s one of the few mobile games where I never turned the volume down, and that’s a massive accomplishment.
What doesn’t work so well is the controls, which can occasionally decide that a swipe to the left was more downward. A LOT of levels require getting movements set to a very exact sequence, so if the input is misinterpreted, there’s no back button to erase a mistake. It’s an instant restart, and I suffered through many levels where I knew the solution, but had to restart several times while shouting “How was that left swipe a fucking step to the right!?”
But now we come to the cardinal sin. I think I was in the second area of the game, trying to sort out a saw trap, and I just kept fucking up the timing. Then about the tenth time I died, a little white exclamation point in a red circle popped up over the light bulb icon in the lower right corner. I assumed it would be offering a hint, like, “Be sure to pick the right path through the saws.” But no, instead it said, “GIVE US €2.99 AND WE’LL PLAY THE LEVEL FOR YOU.”
WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. FUCK?
First of all, I’m playing a puzzle game because I want to be challenged. This game accomplished that in spades. It had me replaying the same level ten times just to look for a jar I missed. I would have liked a hint nudging me the right way, particularly in the back half of the game when almost every level had me wandering away and needing time to sort out what I was getting wrong. But I just wanted a hint, like “Try moving the columns around.” I did not ever want to have the game play itself and make me pay extra to stop playing.
This is exactly the kind of greedy cash grab that is poisoning the gaming well, and it’s even more tragic this time because Lara Croft Go is an expertly crafted work of art. Someone looked at this superbly designed puzzle and decided that they should shit all over it by asking players, “Give us more money, and we’ll play the game for you.” THEN WHAT THE FUCK IS THE POINT OF MAKING SO MANY GREAT PUZZLES IF YOU’RE GOING TO RUIN THEM?
I mean obviously, I didn’t go in for that scam, and I have nothing but love for the game itself, the sometimes wonky controls notwithstanding. I adored every level and felt pleased with myself every time I finally found the solution. But if I failed to nail a solution before that little hint light bulb lit up with an exclamation point, it would remind me that someone, probably a stupid fucking middle manager, couldn’t resist meddling with a brilliant game, all in the name of prying a few more bucks from paying customers.
As disgusting as that is, I can’t ignore how much I loved the challenge of these puzzles, and although I ranted to hubby that I would give Lara Croft Go 3 stars, in the end, I’m giving it 4. It could have achieved the highest score from me, but between the controls screwing me over and the occasional prods for money to not play the game, it loses a star.
It’s still quite good, and if you like puzzle games, this should keep you busy for a week or two.