Can it really be six years ago that we were first seduced by Lara Croft and her plaintive sighs? Apparently it is, although we'd swear the calendar is lying profusely, and after five fairly exhausting adventures, and two fairly forgettable Game Boy Color stabs, we're now presented with the first Tomb Raider to hit the Game Boy Advance.
We were pretty intrigued on the basis that we thought the GBA might be capable of doing a decent version of the original PSX adventure, albeit with a fair amount of programming trickery. Core Design itself handled previous handheld versions, so it was something of a disappointment to find that an unknown Ubi Soft Italian dev team had taken on the project - becoming the first Tomb Raider project to be coded outside of the Derby based company.
Even more of a disappointment was to discover that the team has opted to go for an old school isometric approach. Clearly, the GBA can cope with these kinds of graphics with consummate ease, but they do scant justice to playing Tomb Raider As You Remember It™.
With these initial impressions put to one side for a moment, the experience of playing the game has all the elements you'd expect: running, jumping, climbing, shooting, shimmying across ledges, pulling switches, avoiding flame traps, spikes, and general exploration.
In addition, narrative is sprinkled liberally to give you some sense of structure and purpose within each level, although in fairness it's really not worthy of your attention, being limited to tedious "This place could do with some air", and "that guard looks like he could do with a weapon" type quips. Comparisons to the real thing are inevitable, and in this context die hard Tomb Raider fans won't be anything other than disappointed. Ubi Soft has neither pushed the GBA's technical capabilities, nor designed a compelling handheld substitute.
As such, the 2D nature of the proceedings turn it into a fairly ho-hum platform game, which sees our heroine bounding about as usual, searching for switches, keys, and an assortment of artefacts, while dispatching irritating baddies. Luckily the auto target makes things easier than usual, although it basically makes the game way too easy in the combat department. Just hold down the fire button and run around until the baddies go away. Ho hum.
As per usual with handheld titles, there are some spectacularly irritating sound effects guaranteed to shorten the lifespan of both you and your GBA if you intend on playing this in a public place without the aid of headphones. In fact even with headphones, you're likely to trigger off latent mental illness, as the piercing yelps of dying wolves and the endlessly sighing Lara will bore into your skull within seconds. [Oh God yes the pain... -Tom]
Visually it's 'alright'. It does its job reasonably well, but blandness abounds, and the whole thing just looks like it's been rushed out to fulfil a contractual obligation, rather than a labour of love. At least Core's GBC efforts were lavished with detail; this comes across as a quick, formulaic effort lacking polish in any area. Level design is sparse, basic, often tedious, and mostly far too easy. It has all the elements that you associate with Tomb Raider, but minus any of the atmosphere - and given that some of the finest 2D platformers ever, such as Flashback, Prince Of Persia and Another World were dripping with atmosphere, this is a fairly unforgivable omission.
We realise there's not much money to be made from GBA games, and that development budgets have been slashed of late, but when publishers serve up half baked, lazy, uninspired software for £35, it's hardly surprising gamers aren't rushing out to buy them. Tomb Raider: The Prophecy isn't going to change anyone's mind.
Having said all that, if you got this as a gift, and had a few hours to kill beside a sun drenched pool, it's actually quite an addictive, untaxing game to get along with, if you have a compulsion to unlock doors and disarm traps endlessly. Under no circumstances would we recommend you parting with £35 for it, though. For that, you could pretty much buy the entire series - or for an extra fiver wait for the forthcoming Angel Of Darkness.