Over the course of the year, Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider: Anniversary--a healthy remake of the original Tomb Raider--has been popping up on all sorts of different consoles. Now, after a few months of fiddling on the developer's behalf, it has arrived on the Wii. The big difference between this and the previous versions of Anniversary lies in the motion controls. They allow for some pretty neat minigames, but unfortunately, they make fundamentals such as camera control and combat occasionally frustrating. Nevertheless, it can be worth learning to grapple with the controls because there's a lot of really satisfying, acrobatic action in here.
Like the 1996 original, Tomb Raider: Anniversary follows the tale of Lara's hunt for the Scion of Atlantis as she does battle with conniving businesswoman Jacqueline Natlas and her various henchmen. You'll explore ancient tombs and forgotten cities in Peru, Greece, and Egypt. You'll also perform plenty of death-defying acrobatics as you work your way through massive, ancient, and often deadly puzzles. The whole experience is highly evocative of the original, and there are certainly plenty of moments that seem specifically designed to create an odd sense of déjà vu. Nothing in Tomb Raider: Anniversary has been regurgitated verbatim--everything is bigger and better. The environments are larger and more detailed, and existing puzzles have been elaborated upon, often to an incredible degree. The experience just feels bigger, and there's so much new content that it honestly feels more like its own game than a remake.
A big part of that feeling comes from how much more talented Lara has become since the original Tomb Raider. Aside from a few, nominal differences, she's basically got the same abilities here as she had in Tomb Raider: Legend, which made her one of the most nimble action adventure heroes this side of the Prince of Persia. Her proficiency around ledges is incredible: She can shimmy across ledges, leap from one ledge to another, and scramble from one ledge to a higher ledge. She can swing from dangling ropes or horizontal bars, perform tumbling maneuvers to avoid projectiles, and climb up, leap from, or balance precariously atop vertical poles. Most of the actual acrobatic controls work well on the Wii, but some of them can be a little more challenging and occasionally frustrating due to the way the camera controls are handled. You can tap the C button on the Nunchuk to snap the camera directly behind Lara, or you can hold it down and use the Wii Remote to point toward the edges of the screen, which causes the perspective to rotate. Without a mouse or a second analog stick to work with, this seems about as good as can be expected from the Wii, but it's not as fast, natural, or finessed as either of those controller-based input options.
Lara will need to exercise each and every one of her abilities to their absolute limits in Tomb Raider: Anniversary, which features no shortage of ridiculous acrobatics. The game is essentially made up of a series of gigantic, unique set-piece puzzles. Sometimes the puzzles are traditional find-the-key, flip-the-switch affairs, but more often than not, the real puzzle is figuring out how to use Lara's ability to get from point A to point B. What's more, the puzzles are often nested several layers deep. Although your overall goal may be to find four keys to open a door, you'll first have to figure out how to get to the bottom of a gigantic, crumbling tower. After getting to the bottom, you'll have to figure out how to access four different doors. Then, after accessing the doors, you'll have to figure out how to actually open those doors. Of course, behind each of those doors lies a series of tricks and traps that you'll have to traverse before you'll get to the keys. Solving one of these overarching puzzles can be an involved process, with some of them taking well beyond an hour to complete.
The environments are your biggest adversaries most of the time in Anniversary, though during your exploration you'll regularly run into some antagonistic fauna, such as rats, bats, wolves, bears, tigers, gorillas, raptors, and the occasional Tyrannosaurus Rex. You'll fight off your foes with a variety of firearms, which is another point where the Wii edition sets itself apart from the other versions of Anniversary. You'll lock on to an enemy by holding the Z button, and then use an onscreen reticle controlled by the Wii Remote to actually aim, at which point you squeeze off your shots with the B button. It can feel a little more engaging than a simple lock-on system, but it can also feel clunky. Given that the camera will follow your enemy wherever it goes, you have to constantly adjust where on the screen you're aiming. When dealing with a number of enemies at once, a situation that might benefit from being able to adjust the camera while you shoot, it's simply not an ideal system.
New to Anniversary is the adrenaline dodge. Shooting an enemy repeatedly can enrage it, which causes it to charge at you. If you shake the Nunchuk at just the right moment, time will slow down and a target will appear on the enemy. If you can hit the target in time, it usually means instant death for your opponent. Tomb Raider: Anniversary also makes use of the same type of interactive cutscenes seen in Tomb Raider: Legend, where you'll have to quickly react to an onscreen gesture cue to keep Lara alive. It allows for some beautifully choreographed action sequences, but the little onscreen diagrams that tell you how you need to move the controller aren't always clear, and there are times when the game seems to have trouble recognizing your movement.
But the motion controls aren't entirely a negative. You'll find that many of the puzzles have been enhanced with minigames throughout, and occasionally you'll have to do more than simply pull a lever to open a door. You'll have to decode lock tumblers with cryptic images on them, arrange cogs on a set of spindles to activate machinery, and use the Wii Remote to draw or trace images. At a certain point, Lara will also get a set of tools that let her dig for clues and buried treasure. It's not the most ingenious use of motion controls we've seen, and they don't take up a huge amount of your time, but they lend the game a certain tactile quality.
What keeps Tomb Raider: Anniversary engaging throughout is the strength of the gameplay, as well as the quality of the presentation. Even though you're basically just going from one tomb to another, they feature enough individual detail to make them unique. The environments are also huge, using the occasional curvy hallway to mask load times, and aside from some minor gameplay contrivances, they feel pretty real. Lara looks great and moves with a natural grace that makes her incredible acrobatic feats look feasible instead of ridiculously superhuman. The various wildlife creatures you confront also move convincingly. It's the little touches that bring the whole thing together: the way water glistens on Lara's skin when she gets out of the water, or the tangible difference in atmosphere between different locales.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary on the Wii looks about as good as it did earlier this year on the PlayStation 2, which is to say that there's a fair amount of aliasing. We also noticed some Wii-specific issues with the presentation, such as small instances of flickering textures and some goofy, out-of-place shadows. The environments might not always be rich with detail, but Lara looks consistently great. It's also a really great-sounding game. You'll hear plenty of small ambient effects, such as animal calls and dripping water. Lara's grunts and yelps as she scales these incredible antiquities will also resonate differently depending on the size of the room. Music is generally used sparingly, but it always swells to a flourish at all the right moments.
Tomb Raider: Legend did a lot to make Lara Croft feel relevant again, and Tomb Raider: Anniversary is another step in the right direction. The acrobatic action is consistently exciting and challenging throughout. Despite some issues in its translation to the Wii, Tomb Raider: Anniversary is still a fun and challenging action adventure game that captures the spirit of what made the franchise so great in the first place.