Not even one month ago Square Enix decided to re-release Final Fantasy IV: The After Years for iOS software. The update got a new control scheme, enhanced three-dimensional graphics, and was released for a relatively modest price. This is an all too common change for remakes of classic titles. Sometimes though, old favorites are brought back into the spotlight without all the pomp and circumstance. They don’t have enhanced graphics or many added features. They’re more or less exactly how you remember them. Square Enix continued their re-release habits in this manner on December 17th by dipping into a PlayStation classic that set a new standard for female lead video games: the original Tomb Raider. This new release, also for iOS software, only changed how you actually physically play. It had to be updated for touch screens after all. This means that for the immensely low price of 99 cents you can enjoy Lara Croft’s first outing in all her 3D polygonal glory.
Why is Tomb Raider so influential? You only need to look at the leading lady to know why. Tomb Raider first hit store shelves in 1996 for MS-DOS, PlayStation, and Sega Saturn. It’s an action-adventure third person video game that stars a gun-toting archaeologist named Lara Croft. The game follows her as she tracks down Scion artifacts across the globe. Her search brings her to the mountains of Peru, an ancient monastery in Greece, and even a Pyramid of Atlantis. Throughout her journey, Croft solves a series of puzzles and complex tricks that must all be completed in order to proceed to the next level. Platform style gameplay is a huge part of this game along with a free open environment that allows Croft to swim, hang off ledges, and jump to her heart’s content. Combat is very similar to a run-and-gun style too with Croft wielding a wide array of weapons including shotguns, magnums, and her pistols which have become a staple of her character.
It’s undeniable that one of the most groundbreaking aspects of Tomb Raider was the fact that it featured a strong and courageous female lead. Lara Croft was basically everything that made Indiana Jones great but in female form. On one side of the spectrum, many people viewed Croft’s globe trotting, tomb raiding ways as extremely positive female representation. Keep in mind that this came at a time when the main lead of the majority of action-adventure games was typically a male. Females were either supporting roles or figures that needed rescuing. Even the Metroid series, which boasts the powerful female protagonist Samus Aran, almost completely masked her gender in the original Metroid. You only found out she was in fact female after beating the game in less than five hours. Croft however was undeniably female and that made her an incredible addition to the gaming industry as a whole. She quickly became a celebrity and was featured on magazines, comic books, and movies. Actual corporations like Timberland wanted her to be the spokeswoman. She became a hit unlike any other on the market.
Then you have the other side of the spectrum which viewed Croft as everything that is wrong with how women appear in games. Regardless of her hard edged demeanor, Croft is probably best known for having an impossibly proportioned female figure. To put it simply, she’s unnaturally skinny with very large breasts. It’s already officially stated that her bust was initially a mistake but all programmers loved it so they kept it in the final product. This caused people to claim that Croft was objectifying women at a time when they should be viewed as more than just objects of intimate desire. Her shapely figure ended up being one of her defining qualities, for better or for worse, and is likely a leading reason to why Croft is in the Guinness World Records for the Most Recognizable Female Video-Game Character.
Outside of Lara Croft, this is a top notch title that became one of the best selling games of the original PlayStation. Critics praised the top notch graphics, incredible soundtrack, and its blend of puzzle and action gameplay. Even though a long and successful franchise branched out from this single title, the original Tomb Raider is still the best reviewed game of the entire series. Its immerse gameplay was previously unheard of either which allowed the game to stand out among a growing marketplace. Many people still consider Tomb Raider to be one of most influential games to ever exist.
I barely played the original Tomb Raider when it first came out. In fact, I haven’t really played any Tomb Raider game at all. My personal experience with the franchise has been briefly playing some early demos of the first few games and seeing some bit parts of the first movie with Angelina Jolie. The demo for the original Tomb Raider didn’t really impress 7-year-old me. I had trouble controlling the game and really just had more fun killing Croft in a variety of different ways. I was already much too involved with other video games that playing Tomb Raider never became a priority for me. My interest was definitely peaked when the reboot came out earlier this year though and I have officially made it a priority to reintroduce myself to this very famous series.
A lot has changed since Tomb Raider came out 17 years ago. Female protagonists aren’t exactly rare anymore and it’s undeniable how much Croft changed the gaming landscape. Women could in fact be badass which is something people began to take note of. The ratio between male and female lead games is still incredibly lopsided but it was crystal clear that there was a definite market for female lead titles. Unnatural appearances aside, Croft was a real trendsetter in a male dominated industry. It’s also refreshing that Square Enix has brought this classic back in its original form. Tomb Raider may not hold up to the standards we have set for ourselves today, but it’s still an extremely nostalgic look back at what was originally considered state-of-the-art. With more Tomb Raider coming in the near future thanks to the critically acclaimed reboot, there really is no better time to look back at where it all began.