Tomb Raider: Underworld is a side scrolling platformer that does little justice to its illustrious series. This perspective removes the exploration that made the series so popular and replaces it with generic jumping, climbing, and swinging through linear underground environments. It is by-the-numbers stuff, enlivened by attractive visuals and some addictive touch-screen puzzles. The result is a game that fails to master any of the things it attempts, though it has sporadic highlights and some nice environments and visual effects.
This version of Tomb Raider: Underworld follows the same story as the other versions of the game. Things start out badly for Lara; the prologue finds her racing to escape her lofty mansion as it burns to the ground. Cut back to two weeks earlier, and she's trying to take care of some of her father's unfinished business, which leads her to discover more about her mother, characters from previous games, and the mythical Hammer of Thor. From a technical perspective it's good to see the CGI cutscenes squeezed onto the DS, but it's a shame that the story is badly written, poorly voiced, and instantly forgettable.
Like previous Tomb Raider games on Nintendo handhelds, this is viewed from a side-on perspective, meaning it's more of a platformer than an adventure game. This removes much of the series' trademark exploration, but on the plus side, it alleviates the tedious backtracking seen in the other versions of the game. It's a shame that the platforming is so simple, though, with none of the beam-walking, abseiling, and free-climbing that made other versions of the game feel so fresh. There are a few good ideas though--the game slows down time so you can move out of the way of large obstacles, and if you don't quite make a jump you have to tap X to stop Lara from falling off the edge. The levels are also reasonably brief, a welcome change from Tomb Raider: Legend's bloated, seemingly endless levels.
While a good portion of the game is spent jumping between platforms, you sometimes come across a puzzle that's controlled via the touch screen. The best of these is a Tetris type puzzle game, where you move the pieces with your stylus. The puzzles start off simple, but they soon become more challenging and are incentivised with prizes such as artwork that can be accessed from the main menu. There are a few other touch-screen-based challenges, such as chiseling away at an old stone to set it free or moving discs into the right position to open a door, but they're not particularly fun or challenging. You also use the microphone to blow away dust from time to time, but as in some other games, this feels a little tacked on.
Combat plays a relatively small part, though you have to fend off an occasional enemy using weapons and melee attacks. There's some finesse in the combat system, as you use the right shoulder button to target enemies, the B button to jump over them, and the A button to kick. However, the enemies are spread out and shotgun is too powerful, allowing you to kill most enemies in two shots. Like the rest of the game, the combat isn't challenging, and it wouldn't lose anything if it just concentrated on the platforming.
Tomb Raider: Underworld is very pleasing to the eye. The environments are varied, the lighting is excellent, and only Lara's somewhat stilted animation dampens the impact of the visuals. There are also underwater sections that may not be much fun, but the distortion effects look really nice on Nintendo's console. The audio isn't quite as accomplished, and while the music occasionally quickens the pace, the sound effects are all generic.
Tomb Raider: Underworld is a mix of unremarkable platform elements punctuated with some fun puzzle-solving. The overall difficulty is far too easy, though, and even if you search out all the hidden extras, you can breeze through most levels without dying in a matter of minutes. Add this to a forgettable story and simple characterisation, and there's little to spur you on. Tomb Raider: Underworld is ultimately a competent but underwhelming platform game that has little to offer fans of the genre.