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All puzzles and no action, 'Lara Croft Go' is a simplified, thoughtful take on 'Tomb Raider'

All puzzles and no action, 'Lara Croft Go' is a simplified, thoughtful take on 'Tomb Raider'
"Tomb Raider" gets the mobile treatment with "Lara Croft Go." (Square Enix)

When "Tomb Raider" was rebooted in 2013, the game ushered in a number of changes for its main character Lara Croft.

Gone were the short-shorts and oversized chest, and in their place was a young, attractive archaeologist who actually looked like a young, attractive archaeologist. What's more, Croft talked and acted like a real human -- curious when it came to adventuring, trepidatious, at least at first, when it came to weaponry.

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While "Lara Croft Go" brings back the shorts, the new $4.99 mobile game from Square Enix one-ups the re-imagined "Tomb Raider" on at least one level: it requires the constant use of your brain.

Spiders stalk, snakes linger and crocodiles saunter, but the Croft here isn't itching for a fight. With swipes of the hand, Croft tap-dances around precarious ruins, all in an effort to avoid a a face-first run-in with beastly jungle creatures.

"Lara Croft Go" is essentially an interactive board game. Set amid a forgotten and lost empire, the game's mini-universes are clean but knotty labyrinths filled with puzzle-solving tools. Some levels come affixed with spears, but they're one-time use only. Occasionally, paths will crumble if Croft dares cross them twice, which is handy for getting rid of shadowing crocodiles.

There are levers, which will twist and turn the cavernous trails that lie before Lara, and there are metal blades, which can saw an adventurer's body -- or that of an arachnid -- in two. Each level looks like it belongs in a pop-up music box. Thin walkways are layered under and on top of one another, disappearing under movable bridges or delicately held together by pencil-thin rails.

Whether exploring dark caverns or stepping lightly along the side of a broken temple, there's a dreamy, lost-in-the clouds feel to "Lara Croft Go." Everything is familiar, at least in a way that recalls films such as the "Indiana Jones" series, and the game's take on fantasy is more whimsical than serious. Spiders and snakes, for instance, tower over Lara, and a giant "Queen of Venon" is chasing Lara and destroying parts of the world with every slimy turn of her body.

The look owes a bit of a debt to last year's indie hit "Monument Valley," in which a princess was guided though shape-shifting castles that felt illuminated by moonlight. Whether indoors or out, the worlds of "Lara Croft Go" feel set amid the clouds, as rocky passageways can twist, turn or spiral around one another.

It's beautiful to look at, and gives "Lara Croft Go" a rather fanciful take on "Tomb Raider." The puzzles are moderately challenging, but never entirely vexing. Developed by the company behind "Hitman Go," "Lara Croft Go" is a puzzle game based almost entirely around pattern recognition. For every movement of Lara's, the obstacles also get to take a turn.

Trails that can be traversed are outfitted with little diamonds. Lara can scale walls or jump on fragile pillars, but she's limited to one movement at a time. Charmingly, "Lara Croft Go" will every so often add in little animations as Lara moves -- a backflip here, or a somersault there. Snakes, spiders, alligators and even boulders all have their rules of movement -- alligators will trail you, snakes will wait for you and spiders will march, tauntingly, back and forth.

There are other puzzles beyond surviving nature. The temples are outfitted with levers and buttons that create walls, rotate a platform or act as a sort of ancient elevator. It's as if Lara is trapped inside of a clock -- everything moves in time, and either tick-tocks closer to her or into her path.

Solutions sometimes involve trial and error. Three steps forward without pushing a lever, and a boulder needed to squash a snake may roll off a cliff. Four steps without loosening some rubble, and there will be nowhere for a crocodile to fall and Lara may suddenly find herself trapped between a reptile and a spider.

While most puzzles can be solved in a few minutes, some took a good 20 to 30 minutes to fully complete, making "Lara Croft Go" a contemplative companion to modern, action-focused "Tomb Raider" games. So while it may be a shorter, smaller and more simple experience than this winter's Xbox One title "Rise of the Tomb Raider," "Lara Croft Go" still manages to grow the character.

A brain, it turns out, is just as engaging as Croft's trusty bow and arrow.

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