GO, the traditional Chinese game of strategic territory domination, doesn’t see a whole lot of love in Western culture. Chess is typically the game of choice for patient, pensive competition. But the complexities of chess often deter a number of potential players. Different abilities for different pieces, one-touch move commitments, uncommon rules like en passant that only the dedicated players are familiar with - skill at the game is frequently considered shorthand for genius. GO, on the other hand, hews closer to the ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’ mentality. A simpler set of rules hides an enormous amount of depth, as the game’s 2500 year lifespan attests to.
Thus, if you’re looking for a shining example of masterful game design, you can do a lot worse than the ancient pastime. Developer Square Enix Montreal proved this last year with the release of Hitman GO, a board-game-esque rendition of the stealthy franchise that successfully captured all the tension, tactics, and trademark style of the console titles despite the change of format. Now it’s Lara Croft’s turn. Does the same GO formula lead the eponymous tomb raider to the treasure she seeks, or does she stumble into the darkness of insubstantial imitation?
How do you translate such an epic AAA experience onto a tiny touch screen?
Happily, it’s the former. Lara Croft GO doesn’t just live up to its predecessor, it surpasses it, delivering an object lesson in how to create a rich, satisfying mobile experience. Though the checkpoint system is generous enough to permit play in short bursts, settling down and sinking your teeth in is just as viable thanks to the steady pace of new enemies, locations, and gameplay mechanics. Where playing through a dozen Angry Birds or Cut the Rope levels in one sitting can feel like a slog, LCG never succumbs to that same monotony. It is a far more patient affair, designed to be poked at and mulled over until a feasible solution arises. The ‘GO’ subtitle is well-earned: strategy and forethought are critical for making it through each deviously-crafted stage. Many of the puzzles might only have one solution, but until you find that solution, the possibility space seems practically infinite.
Like Hitman GO before it, LCG translates its source material to the pseudo-board-game format with impeccable acuity. A gorgeous, archaeological aesthetic, a trove of treasure to collect, plenty of gravity-defying gymnastics - all the core elements of a Lara-Croft adventure make the transition intact. Furthermore, where Hitman GO emphasised minimalism by tallying steps taken and enemies defeated, LCG removes such restrictions in order to encourage the exploration and experimentation the series has always been known for.
With companies like Sega, Konami, and even Nintendo setting their sights on the mobile market, we deserve more than just another endless runner or match-3 puzzler. These studios need to learn from the excellent example Lara Croft GO sets and focus on harnessing the heart of their storied franchises instead of just slapping a popular name on an overplayed formula. Coincidental naming scheme aside, Pokemon GO, Nintendo’s first real foray into the mobile space, looks to be a step in this direction. By retaining the core catch-’em-all component from the main games and building a new mobile-friendly gameplay loop around it, the game has a chance to prove the virtues of the GO mentality to a much, much larger audience.
If you, like me, want more out of a mobile experience than simply swapping gems and tending farms, you owe it to yourself to check out Lara Croft GO. Like the titular tomb raider, your spelunking will be greatly rewarded.