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3/14/2013

tomb2‘TOMB RAIDER’ (M)

****1/2

Square Enix

Xbox 360

This prequel/reboot/origin story introduces us to Lara Croft before she was a dual-gun-toting badass (and apparently before she had breast implants). Indeed, longtime fans of the franchise will scarcely recognize this realistically proportioned character as she meekly ventures through scary places, appropriately looking scared. This new Lara Croft isn’t merely Indiana Jones in a D cup. She’s a tough but vulnerable woman in what initially plays like a survival horror game. She’s got limited resources and abundant wounds, but is determined to survive on an island filled with hostile mercenaries, impoverished villages and a handful of tombs, fit for raiding.

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In fact, the raiding of tombs is relegated to side-quest status in this prequel. The central narrative plays out much like that of an “Uncharted” game, with each plot point married to a spectacular action set-piece. This format allows Lara to develop as a character rather than just an eye-candy tool used to solve archaeological puzzles. You’ll be there as she performs her very first kill, and it’s a decidedly gut-wrenching experience. But once the bloodshed starts, you’ll find it’s much more user-friendly than in previous installments, whether you’re stealthily taking out adversaries from afar or engaging in full frontal assaults. And if you are a veteran of the series, it’ll take an hour or two to get there, but there are plenty of platforming puzzles and environmental enigmas to remind you that you are playing a true “Tomb Raider” game. This isn’t a reinvention of the series as much as it’s a broadening of its scope. Just as “Uncharted” took the formula from “Tomb Raider” and pushed it forward, “Tomb Raider” has done likewise with “Uncharted.” And if this game of leapfrog continues, you should be dying for the next iteration of “Uncharted.”

 

ninjabox‘NINJA GAIDEN SIGMA 2 PLUS’ (M)

**

Tecmo Koei

PlayStation Vita

The “Ninja Gaiden” series is known for its capacity to precipitate frustration, but that frustration has never been as cheaply earned as it is in “Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus.” Will an attack on a foe lead to his dismemberment, or to a counter-grapple, resulting in a massive loss of your health? You won’t know until you attack and enjoy the random crapshoot that is “Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus.” A little challenge is fine, and certainly the uncooperative camera offers enough of that (especially in narrow corridors), but when you’re playing as a ninja, it’s nice to think that a certain mastery of your skillset will result in success. Instead, you’re battling randomly overpowered enemies and a chugging frame-rate when too many of them gather onscreen at once.

 

etrianbox‘ETRIAN ODYSSEY IV: LEGENDS OF THE TITAN’ (T)

***

Atlus

Nintendo 3DS

The fourth installment in the “Etrian Odyssey” series is for RPG fans who enjoy the role-playing process more than the narrative. Your quest companions are less fully-fleshed characters than collections of battle attributes. If you’re all about the strategy, then this format will suit you well, particularly when the game tasks you to pick up the stylus and draw your inevitable backtracking path through the dungeon like an amateur cartographer. The gameplay here is old school, so be prepared for random encounters, marking secret passages, grinding through levels and losing lots of lives. CV

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