You've come a long way, baby...
The first Tomb Raider appeared on Sega Saturn in 1996 and instantly redefined standards for adventure games. While the technology powering that first adventure is painfully primitive by today's standards (famously, her hair is short during gameplay because her long, braided ponytail proved too much for the game to render properly), it still grasped all the potential of the then next-generation with both hands. And after the inevitable wild commercial success, it got a sequel. And another. And another...
So, with Rise of the Tomb Raider finally upon us on Xbox One, let's take one last look back over our shoulder at the adventures that have come before before we dive into the unknown. I'm going to start with the worst and work upwards to the best. Can you guess which one is coming first?
17. Tomb Raider on mobile phones (various)
Ah! Tricked you! Angel of Darkness may be flawed, but it isn't any of these games, which works massively in its favour. I've lumped Lara's ancient mobile phone outings into one entry because - to be totally honest - they're all awful. There are three games in one phone series (pictured) for those WAP phones that were all the rage until real phones came out. There is also a mobile version of Tomb Raider: Anniversary, which is a highly-simplified, essentially-on-rails, 3D platformer.
At least the N-Gage version of the original Tomb Raider was of comparable quality to the Saturn version. This lot... well, let's just say the invention of smartphones couldn't come soon enough. Indeed, full-fat Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider 2 are available now on iOS, which is a Very Good Thing. Sure, touchscreen controls may over-complicate an already 'unique' control scheme, but the experience is still miles better than this lot. Moving on...
16. Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003, PS2/PC)
There it is! The sadly infamous first installment of the series on PS2 remains a dreadful video game. Chock full of bugs and glitches, it also sees Lara becoming a darker, grittier heroine (yawn). Oh, and some bloke called Kurtis Trent, who you get to play as for a while.
There was a lot of excitement for this game prior to its release. After all, it was the first truly next-gen Tomb Raider after the Dreamcast only saw PSone content ported up. But it was such a misstep, it almost derailed the entire series. Way to go.
15. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Curse of the Sword (2001, GBC))
This Game Boy Color sequel to the Game Boy Color-only version of Tomb Raider wasn't as good. The first game had already pushed the limits of what the primitive hardware was capable of, and this sequel only moved away from the jungles and tombs that made the series so great in the first place.
Even so, Lara's moveset is mighty impressive considering there are only two face buttons on a Game Boy Color. And it's probably the closest you can get to playing Flashback on a Game Boy. If that's a thing you ever wished you could do...
14. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Prophecy (2002, GBA)
Hmmmm. Seeing as N-Gage managed to run the original Tomb Raider in 3D, yet could only run Sonic Advance at about 30fps, I reckon it's possible Game Boy Advance could have managed a full-3D Tomb Raider. But apparently not. Instead, we got this.
The game is viewed from above, only angled so that there's some 2D platforming to be done. It's reasonably slick, but does suffer from a lack of battery back-up. So while you can use passwords to continue your game, they don't store your weapons, meaning you're better off trying to finish it all in one go. Classy.
13. Tomb Raider (2000, GBC)
8-bit Lara is very much like the original Prince of Persia, only with guns. Same abundance of animation frames, same ledge-grabbing jumps (which was always something the first game shared with the Prince anyway).
But the sense of isolation and exploration of the 3D Tomb Raiders is still present, making this much more than the sum of its parts. The fact that you could play it on an imported Game Boy Advance while you waited for actual Game Boy Advance games to become available was sweet. As you can probably guess, I did that. Finished it too. Strong game.
12. Tomb Raider: Chronicles (2000, DC/PSone/PC)
With Lara Croft apparently killed off at the end of Revelations, the following game was a collection of stories from various points of Lara's exploratory career. By this point, the engine was tired, Lara was tired, the control scheme was tired and the level design was tired. Recipe for success, then.
So while this isn't a particularly awful Tomb Raider adventure, it isn't a particularly good one, either. Oh, and the ghostly wraith things are weird. The series has always had an air of the supernatural around it, but Scooby Doo would have a field day with this one. In fact, if Lara unmasked one, it would probably turn out to be old man Winston, the butler from Croft Manor. "And I'd have gotten away with it too, if you wasn't for you always locking me in the freezer".
11. Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999, DC/PSone/PC)
Bit of a weird one, this. It's classic Tomb Raider, certainly, although it starts off with you playing as a 15-year-old version of Lara. Getting 'visibly wet' as the mags at the time excitedly described. What a strange state of affairs. Still, the game did make the leap to Dreamcast, complete with 'bump mapping' (no, stop it - that was a legitimately big deal and not just en excuse for jokes), even resulting in a shampoo advert rip-off in the UK.
While it was frustrating for many gamers (OK, me) to see that PSone was still the primary platform, even though it was massively outdated by this point, the game remains one of the most measured and intelligent entries in the series. Nice work.
10. Tomb Raider 3: Adventures of Lara Croft (1998, PSone, PC)
Tomb Raider 3 benefited from a new game engine, allowing for more complex and densely-populated environments. The quality is high, but the game's design is rather obtuse at times. People were stuck in some sections for literally months. Is that fun? And should Lara really be sneaking around Area 51? St Francis' Folly feels so long ago...
I distinctly remember seeing a magazine cover advertising a preview of TR3, and thinking to myself 'blimey, maybe Lara should slow down a bit'. And then I remember playing the game and thinking 'DAMMIT MONKEY! BRING BACK MY AMMO!' and in the ensuing chase, the frequency of Lara's release schedule was forgotten for another year.
9. Lara Croft Go (iOS)
Lara's latest mobile adventure is very clever indeed. It's technically turn-based, as every move you make is then countered by enemy moves on the grid-like level system. With Lara's animations playing out in real-time, if you keep moving, it looks almost like a real-time game. Like I said, very clever.
There are loads of fan-pleasing nods to old Tomb Raider titles, like the secret chime and ledge handstand animation from the original game, plus some cunningly-designed levels. The visuals are pleasantly stylised, but manage to feel like a true Tomb Raider game, albeit one that's much more like the vintage series than modern-day Lara.