Alright. I only ever played Sonic once, but let me tell you. That hog is bullshit.
When I play Mario, classic, side-running, platformy 2D Mario, the #1 reason for my regular deaths is coins. What do I want? I want coins. When do I want them? Always. In ghost houses, I time my jumps to collect the coins, and I fall down haunted abysses. In lava castles, I jump back and forth on rickety single cubes to get the coins, because I want the coins. Why do I want the coins? Because they’re there. They’re in the game. The game is saying: Get the coins!
In Sonic, coins are rings. They’re both round and gold and there. Whatever Sonic it was that I played, it was infuriating and insulting, because not only is the player supposed to go “fast” (i.e., not linger, i.e., not fix mistakes such as “missed a ring”), but should Sonic meet with a injury the bastard rings spring out of him and whirl away. There is no time to catch them all again. You do this, to my face, Sonic? You disrespect me so boldly? You can go straight to hell. Fast.
Lara Croft Relic Run is the best “strongly reliant on jumps” game I ever played, because it takes this sense of induced anxiety and taunting failure right out of my hands. It’s a running game, which means the player character runs on her own. You don’t have to make her go. You can’t make her turn back. You just have to make sure she doesn’t crash into something extremely fast and die.
Running games are far more prevalent in Asia than they are in the anglophone market, which I can’t explain. I believe this to be a mistake that we should all join together to remedy. Please begin spending a lot of money and time on running games, at once.
Lara Croft Relic Run is so soothing to me because, yes, while Lara does collect coins (from bronze, to silver, to gold; presumably, I’m still stuck on silver), if she misses one or six there is absolutely no way at all for the player to backtrack and make sure that they ALL go in the pocket, or the gauge, or whatever. If you miss a coin, the coin is gone. It’s not on screen anymore and you won’t ever see it again. Lara Croft runs so fast that a coin or a power up is only ever onscreen for six seconds, max. That’s long enough to get stressed out about whether or not you’ll snap it up, but it’s not long enough to do so if you also want to keep your eyes on the path ahead, make sure Lara isn’t ramming into a tree root or falling off a rock face, and keep the direction of your touchscreen swipes correct enough that the computer will take a left for an up and you’ll need to grind your teeth and cry “NOOO!” as Lady Croft plummets onto cruel rocks, yet a-bloody-gain.
The speed, format, and particular dangers of this game keep the player in the moment, in the forward motion, in the explorer’s spirit in a way that other types of games can hardly match. The nearest comparison for me is the scrolling beater: A type of game where “Destroy everything. Move forward.” is the manifesto. Brutal and single minded. Clear and basic perimeters of behaviour. No going back.
Relic Run is played like so: Lara, as I’ve said, runs. She runs through jungle and through lizardman temples, mostly, initially, and the track she runs along is generally about three lanes wide. The player moves her between the lanes by swiping left or right. This is done either to avoid various forms of slamming death (she’ll die a lot) or to place bonus objects (coins, ammo, coin magnet, clues, clue enhancers, relics, and diamonds) in her path, so she’ll run through and collect them. This avoidance of obstacles or gathering of supplies may also require a swipe upwards to jump or downwards to slide. Very simple controls, but well-mixed and never dull. Levels aren’t built to remain staid; every visit to a stage will cause a new route to be run, made up of a good number of environment blocks. Plain road, log bridge, log bridge with wreckage, stone bridge, stone steps, stone steps that collapse as you run, trees in your path, gaps in the road, statues to jump, etc. These route building blocks increase as you play higher levels and longer levels. Eventually you’ll encounter dirt bike sections, and rappel sections, and so on.
Levels vary in their stated objectives. The plot of at least the first forty levels—I’m currently on twenty-nine—is that Lara’s friend Carter has gone missing, and Lara has decided to check if he’s alright. Every few stages requires the collection of clues (floating blue magnifying glass icons); once you’ve collected enough (the number requirement builds as the stage numbers do), a relic appears on your path. If you grab it, the level’s done. If you miss it, it shows up again in a little while. Collecting these relics allows Lara to piece together the gist of what may or may not have been the discovery that lead to Carter’s disappearance. Between these plot-progression stages, there are objectives such as “Run (X) yards [without dying],” and “Collect (X number) of coins.” Yes! Sometimes the actual mission is to get all of the coins!
There are also the aforementioned lizardmen to contend with. Have they eaten Carter? Maybe. They throw things at you, and you shoot back. During these periods of combat, there’s no need to control Lara’s direction or lane. She runs, and you tap where you want her to shoot. There are various crates of coins, medicine, and ammo to shoot too, and explosive barrels that both add up to an achievement badge when you’ve hit enough and take out any lizardmen in its immediate vicinity. Gathering coins and diamonds, you begin to afford upgrades to your gear. You can change Lara’s outfit, give her bigger guns, and buy flack jackets and stronger boots so when she stumbles—as she will if you’re not careful to direct her run—she recovers quickly. And so on.
Microtransactions are on offer if you want to power up quickly, but playing without spending, as I am, is perfectly possible. Visiting often ensures plenty of supply drops, and watching videos can be used in place of some purchases. It feels a full, rounded game, plenty to consider, plenty to invest or not invest in, and plenty of options to make the game experience feel like your own. I don’t really understand where “roleplay game” begins and ends, but I am enjoying the heck out of playing at Lara Croft. Anxiety-free, QuickTime-free, and literally free. The only problem is Kevin.