Lara Croft and her big guns are back. Tomb Raider: Curse of the Sword is her second adventure on the Game Boy Color, and as is often the case, the sequel brings with it a whole slew of enhancements--both positive and negative. Regardless, if you found the previous pocket-sized Tomb Raider too sluggish or bland, this new one probably won't change your mind. It's still basically a gussied up Prince of Persia clone.
Similar to the first installment, Tomb Raider: Curse of the Sword contains five large areas to explore. Afflicted with a terrible curse, Lara must follow a group of thieves from a museum in Manhattan, across rooftops in Soho, down into the New York subway system, beyond the Brooklyn Docks, and all the way to their hideout in Bermuda. As you guide Lara to a cure, you'll experience the usual amounts of ledge jumping and rope climbing that one expects from a game in the Tomb Raider series, as well as a number of activities unique to this particular release, such as boss battles, demolitions, and submarine piloting.
As the settings suggest, much of this latest Tomb Raider takes place in urban areas. Thus, the graphical presentation therein is less fanciful and far less extravagant than in the previous game. No matter how you slice it, a subway just isn't as visually interesting as a centuries-old pyramid. To compensate for this, the developer has updated Curse of the Sword with a couple of significant graphical enhancements, namely scrolling backgrounds and animated environment fixtures. As such, swaying clotheslines, fluttering birds, and ambling clouds make their presence well known. Additionally, the majority of character sprites herein are just as large and as animated as Lara herself--a far cry from the sickly lobsters and spiders of the first GBC Tomb Raider. Some enemies, such as zombies, even have multiple parts to shoot away.
Along with the change toward urban locales, the level design in Curse of the Sword is also more straightforward than that of the first game. There are no puzzles to speak of, swimming is nearly nonexistent, and an almost linear set of scavenger hunts ensures that most players will beat the entire game in less than five hours. Fans of the first Tomb Raider will appreciate the few rare moments where Lara must tiptoe through spike pits or execute lengthy jumps, but such instances are far too infrequent--and much less clever--than those of the first game.
Essentially, what Core has developed for Activision is a kinder, gentler version of the previous Tomb Raider. This latest incarnation still contains the same complex control, Prince of Persia-style gameplay and general pitfalls of the first release, but in a mixture that's much easier to digest. Tomb Raider: Curse of the Sword is a polished game, even if it's not lengthy, challenging, or innovative.