Here's one for the 2D generation
Obviously, the GameBoy Color does not quite have the oomph to drive a nicely rendered 3D gaming environment, a la PlayStation or PC. But it does have vivid colours and more than enough graphical prowess to drive a beautifully drawn and animated 2D side-scrolling platformer. Luckily, Core have done a superb job of carrying the feel (as it were) of Lara Croft on other platforms, to Nintendo's handheld pocket rocket. You may recall that we were very impressed a couple of months ago with Ubisoft's Rayman for GBC. Well, a similar level of detail, care and attention can be found in Tomb Raider. You will guide Lara through 14 levels to gather the five panel pieces, which can be used to gain access to the Nightmare Stone (cue dramatic music). Each level is faithful to the original Tomb Raider titles on other platforms, where you have to find keys and flick switches to open doors, avoid or dispose of baddies, and generally keep your wits about you in order to make progress. If you've ever played Prince of Persia (2D), you'll get the gist. In addition to the obligatory pistol, which Lara can use to shoot baddies, you will pick up various goodies on your travels. These can be as mundane as a small medical kit to heal your wounds, or as interesting as a stick of dynamite which can be used to blow up walls! Your inventory is accessed using the Start button, where it is all presented in a similar vein to the other console Tomb Raider releases.
Simpletons at heart
If this sounds a bit simple to you, just open the Tomb Raider manual. There are FOUR (count 'em) pages detailing the "In-Game Controls"! Lara can roll, jump, climb ladders, use monkey bars, swim and dive. The amazing thing is that you will actually need to become proficient with them if you want to succeed. Tomb Raider is not a run-around-and-blast-the-baddies sort of game. As with the PC and console Tomb Raider series, it is very much more a case of sitting back, solving the puzzles and getting the timing right. The downside of this is that it can become frustrating if you plummet to your death, impailed on a nasty wooden spike, only metres from the next save point. On the other hand, we end up with a game which is perfectly suited to the GBC because it doesn't try to do too much. We are fortunate, therefore, that Core have coded in support for a battery backed save game feature. Every so often in your travels, you will come across a spinning silver diamond. This can be used to save your progress to the cartridge. To resume where you left off, it's just a case of selecting "continue" from the main menu. Simple, neat and very very useful. Core have paid a lot of attention to Tomb Raider's user interface, but not half as much as has been given to the game's graphics and character animation. If you buy one game this year to impress you non-GBC-owning mates, it has to be Tomb Raider. Not only does Lara herself have more frames of animation than we've ever seen before, but the entire game design, from the fantastic digitised storyboard cut sceens to the beautifully coloured in-game backdrops, just oozes quality. Despite the graphical complexity of the character animation, the game never seemed to slow down throughout our play testing. All of Lara's jumps, rolls and dives were silky smooth, which is very impressive given the hardware base on which Core were working. Strangely, the developers have adopted a minimalist approach to the sound and music used in Tomb Raider. There is the obligatory tune for the main menu, and when the game is first started, some promising music emerges. But then it goes quiet. Now don't get me wrong, personally, I think this is much preferable than having the same monotonous tune ringing out throughout the game, which you end up turning off in anger. However, there are those out there who would prefer to have the option of some in-game melodies to compliment the effects. I think that this is going to be a point of much debate in Tomb Raider for GBC reviews. Personally, I think the developers have taken the right approach here, but I'm sure that many others will disagree. As for the rest of the sound, there are gunshots, scuffling noises and all the things you'd expect from a 2D platform jump-around.
In summary, Tomb Raider is a top notch Gameboy Color title. If anyone asked which platform game to buy, it would be this one without a moment's hesitation. Rayman would be highly recommended, but you have to take into account things like save game features. Tomb Raider has a great battery backed option, whereas Rayman takes a trip to nasty-codesville. Give me Tomb Raider any day. However, I can see that the controls may be a bit fiddly for some less experienced gamers, but they could still get a lot of enjoyment out of this title by just using a subset and slowly learning the rest. Similarly, while Tomb Raider is an action platform title, I wouldn't call it "action packed". It is a thinking person's platformer, and for that reason will keep you coming back for a long long time.
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