Lara Croft's resurrection in Tomb Raider: Legend happened before the launch of the Nintendo Wii, and since then only Tomb Raider Anniversary has been released, so gamers haven't got to experience an original, non-remake Tomb Raider game on Nintendo's latest console. Now there's Tomb Raider: Underworld and Wii owners can finally waggle their way through a completely new adventure. It's a Tomb Raider game, for sure, it's just a lackluster one.
Underworld picks up right after the events of Tomb Raider: Legend and includes a movie recap of the events in the previous game (if you didn't play that version, be prepared to scratch your head). Players control the lovely Lara Croft through temples, caves, and, yes, tombs in a hunt for the fabled Avalon and her long lost mother. The plot is pretty good, though it tends to get a bit overdramatic and occasionally dips into silliness.
The Wii version is not a direct port, though it is very similar. There are plenty of the same puzzles and areas to climb, but there are also unique ones. This isn't a terrible version of Tomb Raider, but compared to the other versions of it, and even compared to the PS2 prequel, Underworld is a sufficiently lacking title.
A lot of the shortcomings are simply due to failure to capitalize on the hardware. The levels are small and not very intricate for a Tomb Raider game. There's still plenty of jumping, climbing, swinging and puzzle solving, but it's short and streamlined. It just lacks the feeling of huge unexplored environments that the other Tomb Raider games had. It's still got that acrobatic charm and puzzle solving that has made the series fun. Scaling huge temples and cliff faces is still a fun pastime and the later puzzles are tricky enough to make you scratch your head. Lara is still free to roam about wherever she pleases, but it's just that most of those places make her fall to her death, so the game feels kind of boxed in.
Watch MySims Kingdom in Motion.
The game's environments look great by Wii standards. The jungles of Thailand are beautiful, and while most of the temples are fairly bland there manages to be a few cool looking rooms. Lara travels all over the world. She goes diving in the ocean, rides a motorcycle through canyons in Mexico, and even relaxes in her luxurious mansion (before it gets blown up in the opening cinematics). There are some pop-in and clipping issues, and players will occasionally move Lara right through pillars or arches like they were phantom architecture.
On the other hand, the sound effects are weak, if they're present at all. It's noticeable right from the beginning when battling the giant Kraken. A huge monstrous octopus should be making a lot more noise. Crumbling pillars sound like they're made of soft clay rather than ancient stone, and swinging tentacles slide around silently through the temple.
Everything about the game that is Wii specific is either annoying or a joke. There are pointer based puzzles in the game, but all of them are so absurdly simple that they can't even be called puzzles. It's insulting. The waggle controls are unnecessary. Why can't I press a button to make Lara move faster along ledges? Shaking the nunchuk doesn't make me feel like I'm in the game or anything. The controls in general are kind of clunky and the collision detection is hit or miss. I inexplicably leapt in the completely wrong direction and killed myself numerous times.
Part of this had to do with the stubborn camera the game has. Oftentimes it will lock into some weird position, making it hard to see where Lara needs to jump to. Usually you can move the camera, but sometimes it resists and shakes violently or swings around way too far.
Combat has also taken a back seat in the Wii version. There are the occasional enemies or murderous jungle cats, but they're few and far between. I mean really few, as in you only ever see a couple at a time. It seems like a joke when you play for an hour and the only bad guys that show up are two easily dispatched goons guarding a temple. I don't mind having the game consist mostly of exploration, but when the gunfight starts I expect a legitimate battle. This is sad and boring.
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