Tomb Raider Preview

Tomb Raider GBC is the fifth adventure of videogaming's most popular female figure, Lara Croft, and it is one of the latest franchises to make its way to Nintendo's newly revived handheld system. To many, it's difficult to imagine playing Lara in 2D - thanks to her popular polygonal figure - so Core Design is packing all it can into the title.

Manuscripts have been found that tell the history of the end of Moctezuma II's reign. In these manuscripts lies a passage describing The Nightmare Stone, which holds within it the spirit of an evil god named Quaxet. At one time, Quaxet controlled the Aztec, Mayan, and Inca lands. That was until the three cultures teamed up to destroy him. A high priest from each land defeated the evil god and stored his soul in the crystal orb, and then they sealed The Nightmare Stone in an Obelisk and hid it in a temple to keep anyone from ever getting their hands on it.

A curator in Peru named Illiat contacts Lara's good friend Professor Igor Bowmane. The man warns the professor that certain "organizations" have been asking for information regarding the location of the manuscripts. To make sure that none of these organizations ever gets a hold of The Nightmare Stone, the professor sends Lara to Peru to find the crystal orb. The plan is for Lara to meet Illiat at the entrance to the temple where the stone is hidden, but all she finds when she arrives are signs of a struggle and Illiat's shattered glasses. She then notices footprints that go up to the temple, but she finds no entrance. After messing with the rocks around the area, a door into/a hole in the temple opens up and the journey begins.

Core Design is making sure it keeps Lara true to her form. She is an astounding 48 pixels tall, which is two-to-four times taller than characters in most Game Boy Color games. Core hopes to give Lara a wider range of moves than any other character seen on the handheld device. To do this, it is converting all 2,500 frames of animation from the existing 32-bit model, allowing for extremely smooth movement.

Just as in her 32-bit adventures, Lara can jump, climb, vault, roll, and swim as she makes her way through temples, tombs, and treasure rooms. She must blow up walls, pull on levers, and push blocks to complete puzzles. In combat, with the use of Uzi and shotgun firepower, she encounters skeletons, giant snakes, and evil spirits. Overall, you can expect the gameplay to be along the lines of Prince of Persia.

Other features making an appearance in Tomb Raider GBC are FMV, cutscenes, and speech. Core is able to implement simple FMV, thanks to the advancements of delta compression on the Game Boy Color. Another key feature worth noting is the use of real-time palette manipulation to create lighting effects.

Hands-on impressions:

The first thing we noticed after popping a beta copy of Tomb Raider into our Game Boy Color was the game's extreme similarity to the old Delphine Genesis game Flashback. The gameplay is nearly identical to Flashback, featuring many of the same climbing, rolling, and jumping techniques. The game also has a similar look as it starts you out in the jungle, with only your twin pistols and a mess of bats and scorpions to keep you company. Lara still auto-aims, making shooting enemies a simple matter of pointing in their general direction and holding down the fire button. Most of Lara's trademark moves have made it to the GB, like her handstand climb and her roll-and-turn move, which lets you spin a quick 180. Lara's animation is really sweet - it looks similar to the animation in Nintendo's recent release, Bionic Commando. Her movement is extremely fluid.

Getting used to the control takes a bit of work. The select button draws and holsters your weapons, and the start button brings up your inventory. Since you're going to be pulling your guns so often (and the scorpions take five shots to kill, so you must get your guns out as soon as one appears on screen to avoid taking damage), it might have been faster and easier if the guns were on the start button.

Overall, the game seems very methodical and slow paced - again, something fans of Flashback will be used to. It's a fun new take on Lara that will surely help break up the dull monotony of her PlayStation appearances.

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