Reviewed: December 11, 2006
Released: November 14, 2006
Surprise! Thatís what I felt when I opened up my delivery from Eidos and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend for the NDS fell out of the envelope. For some reason I had forgotten (or possibly never even knew) Laraís latest adventure was coming to the handheld system, but given the fact that I have played ever Tomb Raider game since her PC debut in 1996, I was eager to check it out.
Imagine my further surprise when I found this game was a fairly substantial port of the console game, not only bringing over the CG cutscenes (highly compressed of course), but much of the dialogue (also compressed), and many of the signature gameplay moments of the console original.
But the surprises kept on coming when I realized that Human Soft, the team in charge of the NDS version, had actually made use of the exclusive features and abilities of the NDS system to bring even more interactivity into Laraís world.
But the biggest surprise was my disappointment when the entire experience fell totally flat with some truly bad choices in game and level design, saving and checkpoints, ruined the entire game and for me, made it an unplayable and unbearable experience around the third chapter. But I get ahead of myself.
Tomb Raider: Legend is a fairly impressive and ambitious project. For those who have played any of the console versions you will instantly recognize the locations and many of the puzzles and even the treasure locations ripped straight from the console. Itís pretty interesting to see Laraís massive 3D world turned into a unique 2D/3D hybrid and have it all still work.
ďLegendĒ is an appropriate title in that we not only explore the legend of King Arthur and Excalibur, which is apparently much bigger than popular lore would have you believe, but we also explore the legendary history of the Croft family as told through a series of flashback cutscenes revealing much of Laraís troubled past.
The story is totally captivating and maintained even during the adventure with real-time communications between Lara and her support staff (Zip and Alister) back at the mansion, or possibly in the van parked out back in the alley. Of course the real storytelling is delivered in some great cutscenes, compressed for the NDS but still impressive for the screen size and storage space of a DS game card.
At first glance Legend has been turned into a 2D side-scroller and in many ways it has, but it still all works. All of the story moments are recreated and while a few levels have been dropped (like the playable flashback level of a young Lara which has now been turned into a movie), you pretty much get the complete console experience, which is quite impressive.
Lara runs and jump, grabs and climb, and does her complete repertoire of moves with the D-pad and various buttons. The levels appear to be 2D but have a bit of depth to them and you can actually walk toward and away from the screen. At times the levels will rotate around as you round a corner or change directions.
The main areas where Legend differs in gameplay is the functionality of the DSís touch screen and microphone. This first reveals itself in combat where you press the A button to ready your weapon and lock onto any target in the top gameplay screen. Once you get a red target lock the lower screen turns into a 3D forward-facing view of the immediate area and you actually tap on the dodging enemies to fire your shots.
Yes, itís somewhat of a light gun game at this point, but if you have a machine gun and two nimble thumbs you can actually take on two enemies at a time with ease. It certainly adds a whole new level of skill to the combat, which would otherwise be traditional lock-on and fire until dead.
The touch screen also comes into play when you stumble across partially concealed treasure and you must rub your finger across the screen to brush away the dirt and reveal the artifact. Itís the same concept as sifting through the sand in Lost in Blue.
The DS microphone furthers this concept by having you blow into the microphone to blow dust and dirt off of partially concealed treasure, again, like starting a campfire in Lost in Blue. These added touches are few and far between but they add a whole new level of interactivity and even some realism into the gameplay.
For the most part, the entire game is played in the upper screen with the exception of the 3D touch screen shootouts. The bottom screen is usually a pie slice menu where you have one-touch access to any weapons, PDA, or med kit. There is one very cool exception.
Whenever Lara dives into some water the lower screen become the part of the level that is under water, so while you can still see the surface and area above, you will swim down into the depths of the lower screen.
They even managed to work the motorcycle into the NDS version. The motorcycle action scenes on the console already had their own problems and they are even more gimmicky on the NDS. The first one is way too short and easy and the one on the rooftop in Shanghai is entirely automated.
Another new move is directly related to a new gadget, the Magnetic Grapple, which basically turns Lara into Peter Parker. Anytime you are near an item or grapple swing point an X will appear on the screen indicating you can fire your grapple and move the object or swing from it.
Even the ďSuper ActionsĒ have been carried over from the console, even though these are much shorter in sequence. These are triggered at certain spots during the game and require you to press a button or the direction at just the right time to continue an action sequence. Timing is pretty forgiving so itís hard to lose these, but they do offer up a nice interactive twist on what would otherwise be a standard cutscene.
Enemy AI is pretty non-existent and even the bosses donít offer much of a challenge. They move around a bit but the touch screen offers instant hits if your have any sort of hand-eye coordination.
Now for the bad news and the reason this game dropped from an 8 to a 5 in score. Legend has some horrible checkpoints that are either too few or improperly placed within these long and dangerous levels. When a game offers so many opportunities to die with a single missed jump you need to have a better checkpoint system in place.
I managed to tolerate replaying large sections of these levels all the way until Shanghai and then, what was my favorite level on the Xbox 360, turned into the moment where I put this game away, never to play again for fear I will throw my NDS into the wall or out the window.
For those that remember the Shanghai level, there is a checkpoint after you swing and grapple your way to that small rooftop patio with the dogs (dogs arenít on the NDS version). From here you must kills two guys then go inside, go downstairs for a gold idol and upstairs for another then back down to enter an office area. Kill two more guys, grab two more idols, pull down the giant monitor and go outside.
Now on the console version you get a checkpoint before making the difficult climb to the roof. This was tricky on the console but nearly impossible on the DS, thanks to a whole lot of blind jumps since your 2D view is obscured by colored neon and glass. If at anytime you miss a jump you die and return to the patio where you get to do it all again.
Timing is unforgiving, especially when trying to swing from pole to pole before they break off the building, as is trying to make accurate jumps from a weird perspective with a blocked view. Iím pretty good at these games but after 10-15 attempts, which all required replaying a good 5-10 minutes leading up to the outdoor sign climb, I just gave up.
Itís a shame because Iíd really like to see what other fun stuff the designers managed to work into the second half of the game, but I simply donít have time for bad game design and poor checkpoints.
Tomb Raider: Legend is impressive for the DS with lots of color and a nice 3D flavor despite the 2D awkward animation of Lara. Some of her moves look okay, but watching her tiptoe through the office party in her black dress and walking like Peg Bundy was painful...and yes, a bit funny.
The overall design is fantastic and they managed to bring over all the key elements from the console game so if you have played any of those you will already have a head start on where to go and what to do. Even though the perspective may have changed the game unfold just like the console.
The cutscenes are admittedly compressed, but still look better than most other games on the system and they are all intact, complete with speech.
The soundtrack is compressed but they managed to work in some amazing theme music that ranged from tribal to Indiana Jones adventure style. This is great stuff and fits the gameplay perfectly.
Sound effects are pretty standard and stick to the action like gunfire, rumbling stones, splashing water, etc. Dialogue from the console is intact for both the cutscenes and the intermittent com chatter of Lara and her support staff, although some of the less important lines have been turned into text-only.
Tomb Raider: Legend on the NDS is something like a condensed version of the console game. A few levels are missing but the overall game is all here even if the levels have been shorted up. The designers were careful to cover all the major highlights and memorable moments from the console game.
Assuming you can come to grips with the flawed checkpoint system and donít mind replaying huge sections of the game over and over again, you can probably finish this game is a week or so.
It took me about 2-3 hours to get to Shanghai which is about a forth of the game, and that was with a lot of reloading and replaying. Iím not counting the hour I wasted trying to climb the Shanghai sign before giving up on the game.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend is a fantastic game that, for me, was totally ruined by some bad checkpoints. I loved the way the designers managed to bring over all the important elements from the console version and how they integrated the exclusive functionality of the DS, like the touch screen and microphone. You can even hook-up wirelessly with friends and buy and trade items you may have found that they havenít.
If you have the patience of a Buddhist monk then give Legend a shot, otherwise avoid this annoying title or you might just hit someone or something important when you throw your DS across the room in frustration.