Tomb Raider Reloaded, on paper, sounds like every mobile gaming detractor's worst nightmare. A successful IP coming to mobile via a simple gameplay loop, coupled with a currency-laden enhancement system, should be the formula for another example of the worst of what mobile offers. Why then, after hours of fighting through dungeons and avoiding traps with Lara and her crew, am I so interested in coming back for more? Tomb Raider Reloaded sounds like it should be the next mobile disappointment, but instead it offers plenty of dungeon-delving fun.
Tomb Raider Reloaded follows longtime series lead Lara Croft as she plunders for hidden treasure all across South America. Each location on the world map offers multiple stages--from 10 to upwards of 50--where players must help Lara dodge traps and/or fight enemies in order to get from the bottom of the stage to the door at the top. Swiping on the screen will have Lara move through the stage in the direction of the swipe, and whenever she stops moving, she'll open fire on the nearest enemies to her. After every stage is complete, multiple rewards are given to the player, who can use them to upgrade Lara and purchase supplies before moving onto the next location.
It's a simple structure, but that simplicity belies a devilish challenge as Lara runs through each stage. Health carries over between stages, which means Lara can't heal unless she finds a healing item. Sometimes the randomly generated room will be a "safe room" where Lara's companion Anaya will offer a quick heal, but this is a temporary oasis. There's also no way to predict when a crewmate might show up, as each stage is procedurally generated, which means no two visits to one location will ever be the same. What's more, as mentioned before, Lara only attacks when she's standing still, so situations where enemies get too close for comfort are common occurrences.
All of these factors, when applied in tandem, makes it feel like I'm actually exploring a hidden dungeon. There's a prevailing sense of curiosity, with every completed challenge leading to the next chance to discover something new. I'm reminded, in a sense, of the first time I played The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past, where every door I walked through came with an equal sense of wonder and dread. Now, these dungeons are not nearly as complex as those in Link To The Past, and I do not want to give the impression that this is Tomb Raider's version of it. Rather, while playing through a set of stages in Tomb Raider Reloaded, I was reminded of that classic title and what feeling it evoked.
Link To The Past isn't the only game I was reminded of while playing Tomb Raider Reloaded, however. Completing individual stages grants experience and when leveling up, I'm able to choose a power-up from a selection of three, with some being stackable throughout the run. If this sounds like something out of last year's smash hit Vampire Survivors, that's because it's very similar.
Mixing and matching these power-ups through the different stages is incredibly fun. Watching Lara turn from a slow-shooting, limited damage-dealing explorer to an unstoppable killing machine thanks to my choices always gave me a real joy, especially when a power-up I didn't think I would like ended up being the strongest in my arsenal.
Where Tomb Raider Reloaded starts to become less enjoyable is in its currency system, as it applies some of the worst elements of the stereotypical "mobile game." There are currencies that can be earned in-game and those that can be purchased, with repeated "offers" on "deals" sprinkled throughout. Some rewards are free after agreeing to watch an ad, which usually takes up the entire screen and can only be skipped by tapping a symbol the size of a pinhead.
Perhaps the worst of the bunch are the "tickets," which look like plane tickets but are actually the dreaded energy mechanic from other mobile titles. Tickets are a finite resource, and when they've run out no progress can be made until they regenerate or I purchase them with Gems, which of course are the game's premium currency. It's all icky, predatory mobile shenanigans, but admittedly what's seen here is tame compared to other examples I've seen. Tickets always seemed to last as long as I wanted to play each session, and I never felt like I had to pay real money in order to progress in a meaningful way.
These currencies can be used to buy other currencies or to unlock and upgrade different pieces of gear, including new outfits for Lara, helmets that enable ultimate attacks, and amulets that offer stat boosts. Weapons can also be purchased and upgraded, which gives Lara options like double pistols, a shotgun, double SMGs, etc. There's a lot being offered, and a lot of different ways to pay for it, and while it is disheartening, it's at least not debilitating.
While ads are annoying and pop-ups after completed missions can be frustrating, while I'm navigating through the game's monsters and traps, the built-in microtransaction system feels more ancillary than essential. I haven't spent a cent in the app as of this writing, and yet I've completed missions, earned a ton of gold and other rewards, and have been able to upgrade Lara and change her arsenal to my liking. Other games with more intrusive systems will scream and shout at me to check out ads or buy more supplies, but here, when those ads pop up, they don't interrupt active gameplay, nor do they linger when I skip them.
Apropos of the franchise it portrays, when I dig below the currency-ridden surface of Tomb Raider Reloaded and see what's really on offer, there's fun to be had. Dungeon crawling with an increasingly powerful Lara Croft is a blast, while watching her continue to grow more powerful with each level up allows for experimentation with combat in a manner that few other mobile titles do. It's not perfect--microtransactions continue to be an annoying sticking point in the mobile realm--but Tomb Raider Reloaded does a good job of taking the undesirable parts and making room for what this game does incredibly well. Despite a few pitfalls, Tomb Raider Reloaded is worthy of the moniker it holds, with fun mix-and-match gameplay and an ever-changing challenge waiting to be excavated.