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N-Gage Review: Tomb Raider

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Fondly remembered for reasons we have all forgotten, this N-Gage translation of Lara Croft’s first adventure fails for all the reasons it did back in 1996. Most notably, the controls are simply terrible. It’s enough to render this translation unplayable, mostly due to time.

Back in 1996, this was a new experience, and the clunky, slow control scheme was easy to dismiss as a minor problem. Now as better games have eclipsed it, there’s no excuse. Jumping onto a three-foot high ledge should never be a problem, but since there’s a separate jump and grab button, no camera control, unresponsive automatic running (which cannot be turned off), and aggravatingly boring walking, traversing this tough obstacle becomes more challenging than escaping the clutches of a bear.

It should be obvious already that this Core-developed title can’t hold up. The N-Gage brings a few new problems along with it. Without shoulder buttons, strafing is an impossible thumb exercise. Every face button is used, making this overly convoluted and entirely unnecessary. N-Gage Arena fans can challenge a ghost racer and nothing more.

If you’re experiencing Tomb Raider for the first time and somehow manage to find the controls adequate in anyway, you’re in for a fair adventure. Targeting is automatic, so even when the vertically aligned screen blocks over half your viewpoint, shooting a threat doesn’t pose a problem. Seeing where you’re going is a severe problem now because of the screen, even though the graphics look a little cleaner than they did on the home consoles.

Levels are laid out to provide plenty of replay value. There are a lot of small crevices to explore containing numerous treasures, and standard human curiosity may be enough to carry the game for a few hours. A steady frame rate helps, though it’s hardly a replacement for controls that make turning around one of the hardest aspects of the game.

There’s a reason each edition of this franchise sold fewer copies than the one previous. It’s an awful game that managed to work as a new experience. With each Tomb Raider, the controls and slowly declining quality sank it. This first edition shows how bad it really was, and there’s no room for leniency because it’s running on an over powered cell phone.

Tomb Raider is a rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood, Violence.

(* out of *****)

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Ouch! What a slam! And just when I was thinking about buying an N-Gage, too! Okay, just kidding about that last part.

    Tomb Raider showed gamers could find the strong, athletic protagonist a more interesting role for a female game character than the traditional role of waiting around to get rescued at the end of the game (and maybe making occasional cameo appearances in the cutscenes after boss battles).

    The game’s contribution to gender equity in gaming was a bit mixed, of course. Few of the male gamers who bought and played Tomb Raider were primarily attracted to Lara Croft for her intellectual assets, and as Matt reminds us, the gameplay was never exactly stellar either. But in this arena, the struggle toward gender equity seldom enjoys any decisive victories.