In terms of games, 2017 will be remembered for platformers. They stopped being just sad, retro fun and jumped, frolicking, back to the limelight. The much hyped Yooka-Laylee turned out to be a disappointing dress rehearsal but games like Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, Cuphead, A Hat in Time and Super Mario Odyssey will all be fighting for the title of Best Platformer during Game of the Year. In the very long absence of worthy exclusives, Microsoft has put much faith in Super Lucky’s Tale for the holiday season. Can a cute game starring an ever-optimistic fox cub compete against such a pedigree of killer platformers?
Lucky’s Tale was originally one of the launch titles for Oculus Rift. Now, two years later, having gained the prefix Super and the backing of Microsoft, Super Lucky's Tale has grown into a full-fledged 3D platformer in the best N64-fashion, with no virtual reality in sight. There must be many people that have grown weary of games being constantly referred to in reference to Nintendo’s past hardware but, as any informed gamer will acknowledge, it really was the go-to for the best 3D platformers at the time. Like so many others, Super Lucky’s Tale follows the unwritten guide of “How to Make an N64 Platform Game” almost word-for-word.
Lucky’s big sister/guardian, Lyra, has uncovered the Book of Ages, a fabled tome of fairy tales. Unfortunately, the baddie gang Kitty Litter, led by a sinister tomcat Jinx, has followed her and is about to snatch the book. Lucky, acting braver than he perhaps is, jumps in to help but he, along with Kitty Litter, is sucked inside the pages of the tome. Ever vigilant, the Kitties manage to litter the worlds, corrupting them in an instant. Lucky challenges the bad cats to free both himself and the fantasy world inhabitants from their paws.
Each of the four worlds is divided into several sub-levels and challenges. Conquering them, Lucky gains clovers needed to challenge the villain of the current world. Only by besting them does he gain entry to the next chapter. Sub-levels have up to four clovers to collect, each by different conditions. One is gained by solving the overall puzzle of the sub-level, while the rest are awarded for collecting enough coins, gathering letters to spell the word LUCKY, and by winning a foxhole challenge. These include different mini-games, short but hairy platformer sections, timed jumping challenges, and other activities. There are also foxholes in the world hubs too, each hiding similar tasks and awarding clovers.
The past worlds and sub-levels can be re-visited to pick up any clovers previously left uncollected. There are so many clovers up for grabs that there are always multiple activities to do to collect them, and you'll never find yourself lacking something to do. Collectible coins and diamonds (which award extra lives) are replenished time to time so there’s always to something to do. Also, the vivid worlds, though not entirely original, have plenty of funny characters and events to encounter. The graphics are so polished and solid it looks like everything’s molded from Play-Doh.
While Super Lucky’s Tale doesn’t present anything new to the genre, it has many cute details. What really won me over was how Lucky moves. Usually, platform mascots trot boastfully on two legs, even if they’re supposed to be animals. Not Lucky. He runs on all-fours, giving him a likable wild-animal charm. Secondly, the game doesn’t tutor too much, leaving the joy of discovery for the player. Most of the interactions aren’t explained or prompted, so experimenting is the key to success. (Little hint: a fox doesn’t carry his tail for nothing!) I also like how the baddies don’t threaten Lucky with violence. They challenge him instead, which of course is a bad idea on their part!
But running around on all-fours brings some problems. Having the animation sequenced to the pace of the paws leads to somewhat wonky turning radius, causing unnecessary insecurity. It’s like tightrope walking, especially when it’s often hard to perceive the Z-axis on fixed camera angles. The viewpoint can be slightly altered horizontally, but not vertically. The frame rate on basic Xbox One is only 30fps, which can stutter now and then. It’s almost a given that the games like this should run in 60fps, no matter what. Super Lucky’s Tale is released on the same day as Xbox One X and comes accordingly with enhancements, and the developer Playful promises fluid 60fps in 4K there. I just hope this isn’t a beginning of a trend where the basic Xbox One gets only subpar versions of games, with the developers not even bothering to optimize them.
Microsoft has constantly emphasized the family values in promoting Super Lucky’s Tale. Having no violence to speak of is certainly part of it. For starters, I was genuinely startled when the game greeted me with a Finnish translation (see the screenshot above for excerpt of my native language!). That’s something I have usually only seen in Sony’s and Ubisoft’s blockbusters. So, there’s no language barrier to overcome for children of the world. Apart from Lyra’s introductory speech, all characters speak only funny gibberish with text in speech bubbles.
The game is essentially divided into easily digestible parts. After all, children tend to have short attention spans. I can imagine when played with the family members, everyone can try different parts of the game, each to his or her strengths. Indeed, something about the game really thrives on socialization. When I was alone, I had a strange joyless feeling and played badly. I mean, REALLY badly! I couldn’t make any jump count. But when I had company, everything was suddenly smooth sailing. I can’t tell if I was trying to impress the audience or if it was simply about sharing the fun of the game.
Despite some dubious gameplay design (failed mini-games can’t be replayed without restarting the whole sub-level) and problems with the fixed-camera position sometimes obscuring jumps, Super Lucky’s Tale is a solid platformer. It honors the tried and true genre clichés and for a mid-priced game, it doesn’t even need to present anything entirely new. While it’s not the killer app Microsoft’s new beefed-up Xbox will need, it’s wholesome family entertainment. The positive attitude of Super Lucky’s Tale is a big winner here, lifting the game up whenever the gameplay might tread along beaten paths.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.