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Tad the Lost Explorer Review

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2023 felt like the year that ‘Tadeo’ the Explorer finally made a splash on our shores. He’s been around for some time in his native Spain, popping up in a short movie in 2004, before getting his first feature film, Tad, The Lost Explorer, in 2012. Since then, there have been two Playstation Vita games (pretty rare if you can find them) and two more movies with inexplicably long titles: Tad the Lost Explorer and the Secret of King Midas; and Tad, the Lost Explorer and the Emerald Tablet. 

It’s this last one that finally saw Tad getting a full worldwide release in 2023. A worldwide release means game tie-ins, which is where Tad the Lost Explorer (the Xbox game) comes in. To stir some confusion into the pot, it’s named after the first feature-length Tad production, yet the plot follows that of the last: Tad, the Lost Explorer and the Emerald Tablet. Got it? Great.

As movie licences go, Tad is one of the most suitable for video games. Tad’s basically a wise-cracking, somewhat useless hybrid of Indiana Jones and Nathan Drake, and those two have had pretty decent gaming careers. Tad raids tombs and gains mummy sidekicks, which all fits neatly into an action-platformer crate. 

Tad the Lost Explorer review 2
Tad is the Lost Explorer

Things start really very promisingly with Tad the Lost Explorer. You’re given free reign over a Mexican dig site, a 3D semi-open world that emulates some of the more explorative areas in Tomb Raider or Uncharted. You can go in whichever direction you like, collecting magical paintbrushes (it’s never clear why) and finding hidden artifacts. Eventually, you might even get the urge to do some main quest missions. Tombs open up, levers are found, revealing further tombs. 

Better yet, some of these tombs become 2D platforming experiences. The perspective switches from third-person over the shoulder to a traditional 2D run-and-jumpathon. And they’re pretty good: a little floaty on the jumping, and the rubber-chicken ranged attacks require a homing icon that doesn’t always appear. But the context-switching from 3D to 2D is neat, and there’s no denying that it kept us on our toes.

The opening Veracruz section is what we deeply wanted the rest of Tad the Lost Explorer to be like. Ah, if every location could take the training wheels off and let you have free reign over an archaeological dig. Sprinkle about some main and side quests and you’re golden. But, alas, Tad the Lost Explorer is beholden to the plot of the movie, so we get taken on some unfortunate detours. 

After Veracruz, the action moves to Chicago, Paris and Cairo. But our interest in Tad the Lost Explorer diminished with each globetrot. Primarily that’s because the designers wanted to change what the game is about. Tad the Lost Explorer goes from a 3D exploration game, loosely following the structure of a Tomb Raider, to becoming a stealth game. 

Tad isn’t meant to be in the locations that he is visiting. He’s no longer a student at the college he is exploring in Chicago, while he is very definitely not meant to be wandering around a closed Louvre Museum. So, Tad is moving through 3D environments, trying to avoid guards with glowing flashlights. Sporadically he gets to play 2D platforming sections (also with guards), but otherwise the genre shifts quite significantly. 

Tad the Lost Explorer review 3
Tad the Lost Explorer is useless at stealth

That’s a problem because Tad the Lost Explorer is useless at stealth. You might think that the light from the flashlights denote what the guard can or cannot see. But it’s nothing of the sort: the guards are psychic, able to see you from huge distances for reasons that aren’t particularly clear. On other occasions they are dumb as a dodo, ignoring you when you’re millimetres away. 

It’s a maxim that we’re committed to: there’s no worse video game experience than a bad stealth game. One mistake and you’re restarting, like a single golden gun bullet to the head. With such a small margin for error, you need intelligent, predictable enemies and an array of tools for bypassing them. Dishonored had it; Tad the Lost Explorer very much doesn’t. The enemies are utterly random, and you have zero tools for bypassing them. At least the punishment for failure is relatively light: you’re never more than a few seconds from getting back to where you were.

But the stealth doesn’t go away. It stays for Chicago, France and – to a small degree – Cairo. And because stealth games demand linearity – there’s no point having a stealth game where you can circumnavigate the problem via an open world – the joys of Veracruz’s level design are gone, too. There’s precious little open world in these sections, and the charm ebbs away. 

Cairo redeems things a little, but comes with its own problems. This last level is a sprawling space, and the stealth can be mostly ignored. But wandering off the beaten path is compromised by some reasonably invisible hazards (damn you, quicksand), while the main questing is compromised by an objective system and map that’s not particularly great at telling you where you’re meant to go. As a space, it’s slightly too unfriendly. 

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Tad starts off well…

There’s a sprinkling of good stuff amidst the stealth. A vehicle section is slightly more punishing than we expected, but did a good job of cleansing the palate. And the 2D platforming bits rarely falter. If we were to choose a section of the game to prolong and make into its own, full game, then we’d pick Mexico first and the 2D sections second. 

But life’s not like that, so we get an uneven Tad the Lost Explorer. It’s onto a good thing in its opening hour or two, but then ditches it for some low quality stealth that would make Sam Fisher throw up into his gas mask. Sure, it might follow the plot of last year’s movie, but we couldn’t help wondering whether a sprinkling of creative liberties would have improved matters.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Some Tomb Raider-like 3D areas to explore
  • The 2D platforming’s pretty great too
  • Matches the plot of the movie well
Cons:
  • Ugh, the stealth reeks
  • Urban areas aren’t as fun to explore
  • Linear when it should be open
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, TXH
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
  • Release date and price - 3 November 2023 | £16.74
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Some Tomb Raider-like 3D areas to explore</li> <li>The 2D platforming’s pretty great too</li> <li>Matches the plot of the movie well</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Ugh, the stealth reeks</li> <li>Urban areas aren’t as fun to explore</li> <li>Linear when it should be open</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, TXH</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC <li>Release date and price - 3 November 2023 | £16.74</li> </ul>Tad the Lost Explorer Review
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