Done Playing: Tomb Raider Anniversary (Wii)

No one was sadder than I to see Lara’s gargantuan breasts take the spotlight and crush the series’ globe-trotting, adventuring gameplay. Tomb Raider 3, Chronicles, Last Revelation — and even worse — Angel of Darkness all turned the once-intriguing heroine and her adventures into a Britney Spears style train wreck. Finally, in a move similar to how Factor 5 ended up making Star Wars games for a decade, Crystal Dynamics took the reigns and expertly resuscitated the franchise with Tomb Raider: Legend. What do you do when your new Legacy of Kain game isn’t quite ready for production? You make a sequel to your last game; or in this case, a remake.

I was tempted to buy Tomb Raider Anniversary on PlayStation 2. It only felt right to experience the tenth anniversary of the series with a nearly-identical Sony branded controller in my hands. But when Eidos announced that a Wii iteration was in the works I put my nostalgic plans on hold and held my breath. I even managed to put off the prettier Xbox 360 version (replete with gamerscore-boosting Achievements).

And now that I’m thoroughly finished I have to say it’s been one helluva ride. Not just playing through Anniversary — though it has its share of thrilling moments and frustrating quirks — but growing up with the franchise in all. It’s like seeing that old girlfriend or buddy that went nuts for a few years come out clean and sober and spending a night reminiscing about the good ol’ days only all the memories are even better with those oh-so-rosy glasses.

I would frequently stumble upon a room I recognized. A smirk on my face, I’d explain out loud (usually to myself) how this room used to look like crap and how in about three seconds some wolves are gonna come around that corner. Sure enough, I’d be wrong about half the time and suddenly the animals would show up from behind or the room I thought I knew would quickly give way to a sprawling new space. It’s this mingling of the original game with all the good bits from Legend and the added Wii features that kept my sentimental heart strings taught, even when the frustratingly vague puzzles had them ready to snap.

The game itself isn’t anything out of the ordinary. It plays a lot like Legend, and if you missed that one it’s a bit like Prince of Persia with a dash of Devil May Cry gunplay. If that doesn’t paint you an awkward mental picture, well, you’ll just have to take my word for it. The Wii features do feel a little tacked on but they succeed in making Lara feel like the archaeologist she’s supposed to be and less like the history-desecrating bitch she’s always been. After all, what does she do? She discovers these civilizations, lost to time, and promptly stomps all over them in order to find some shiny relics that she ultimately stashes away in her basement. So-phis-ti-cated!

Anyways, the Wii features work well and let you do things like take charcoal rubbings of heiroglyphics and swing a pickaxe to clear debris. It’s simple stuff, the kind of thing you could almost pull off in WarioWare but it fits. There’s also a flashlight that can be used to explore darkened areas but it’s totally a gimmick. What the developers did was take some random hallways and black them out. The only way through is to use the flashlight. It’s not bad but I was hoping for a little more inspiration with these bits. The most surprising part of the gameplay is that the camera control isn’t horrendous on the Wii. Yes, a second analog stick would be perfect but since the Wii is lacking any such nub the combination of the ‘C’ button and the Wii Remote to adjust the view fills in nicely. It’s not perfect either but it works much better than I ever expected of the Wii.

Ten years ago I posted a handmade printout advertisement I had made for the game in a college elevator. As I was sticking it up someone got on and saw what I was doing. “Wow, that’s sad,” they said, but I didn’t care. Obviously, Tomb Raider was going to change the face of gaming and I was going to be right there on day one to experience it. Playing Anniversary on the Wii has managed to rekindle a little bit of that juvenile excitement and optimism for the franchise. It also perfectly captures just how far we’ve come. The blocky, pixelly graphics of the 90’s have given way to shimmering, cobbled textures and real time soft lighting and the like. And who ever would’ve thought that Tomb Raider could be enhanced with a white remote control tethered to a fist-sized wad of plastic?

Ultimately, this was the best way for me to experience Tomb Raider Anniversary and I’m glad that, for once, I waited.

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