The only thing stopping this being the best Tomb Raider game around is that, technically, it isn't one. Yes, Lara's still on the hunt for lost treasure, a one-woman extinction event for giant monsters and any uppity ancient gods, but all the actual details have been thrown out to create a very different kind of adventure. The camera is now locked up on high. The jumping is fast, fluid and never frustrating. Even the shooting is enjoyable. Clearly, this is not Tomb Raider as we know it.
Co-op is officially Guardian of Light's big selling point, but don't worry if it doesn't interest you. (Annoyingly, over-the-internet co-op still needs to be patched in, but you can play locally right now.) One player gets to be Lara, while the loser becomes Totec – a spear-hurling personality vacuum – working together to get past the puzzles. In singleplayer mode, Lara simply gets all of the important abilities, such as Totec's climbable spears, with the man himself only appearing to recite variants of “We must get to the temple before dawn or the world is doomed! Well, bye!”
Needless to say, story isn't a priority here. Luckily, it's not missed. From the first few seconds, Guardian of Light makes it clear that it's more interested in being a game than anything else, and it's incredibly comfortable in its own skin. It happily hands you random challenges on a constant basis, from 'cross the river without touching the water' to 'beat this trap in 30 seconds', but never penalises you if you don't want to play like that. Every map is similarly littered with collectibles, power-ups and bonus challenge tombs where the game's trickiest challenges await. You could ignore them and get to the ending in three or four hours, but you'd be missing the point.
Mechanically, the game is close to perfect. There are points where the outright you-are-playing-a-game puzzles go on for a bit too long, and while there's plenty of variety in the levels, there's not quite enough by the time you get to the final ones – but even at their absolute worst, these are minor issues. For the most part, the action has a wonderful weight to it, whether you're using bombs to launch giant stone balls onto pedestals for a bonus achievement or flipping around mazes of exploding poison plants. Above all, it plays fair, never having you make deadly leaps into the unknown, and offering checkpoints that rarely kick you back more than a few seconds for screwing up.
At first glance, Guardian of Light might look like a simple spin-off – a cut-down Tomb Raider for handhelds and other baby toys. But it's not: it's a superb game in its own right, and all the better for focusing on fun over scale or sex appeal. Tomb Raider or not Tomb Raider , it's easily Lara's best adventure in ages.
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