Although their influence has waned somewhat, the classic platformer with an iconic hero holds a fond place in the hearts of many gamers. A lot of us first found our life-long passion for video games while stomping on a variety of cute enemies. We've explored a confection of wonders with enthusiastic plumbers, unhinged bandicoots, gorillas in ties and hedgehogs with attitude. Many platforms have revived these heroes in recent years to varying levels of success, but Xbox has never really had a truly significant player on the scene to bring back, new and improved. It seems an appropriate time to invest in a brand new hero to make the most of this wave of nostalgia, and perhaps draw a new generation of young gamers towards the Xbox, thus Microsoft has thrown their publishing weight behind Playful's Super Lucky's Tale
Lucky is a little fox with a cape and boots and he needs to save the world by collecting enough clovers to unlock a series of boss fights. That's about it for Lucky's character and story, which is a bit of a shame. The storybook world that Lucky inhabits is full of cute and funny characters that will amuse young players without maddening the adults. From yokel worms and festive yetis to the nefarious antagonists known as the Kitty Litter, they'll all manage to raise a smile or two from a parent despite mainly being there to entertain the kids.
In contrast, Lucky himself is strangely bland. The fact that he is nearly mute isn't unusual for a platforming protagonist, but he also lacks the library of amusing animations and character quirks that make the classic heroes so appealing. His visual design is bright and colourful enough, but it's also far too sanitised to be memorable. Lucky has that committee-designed look one normally reserves for cereal box mascots and this safe blandness carries over into his animations and sound effects. Young players likely won't care too much about any of this, but it does feel like a missed opportunity to make a truly iconic character stand out to the whole family.
This trend of simplicity over innovation carries throughout the entire game and will likely result in divided opinions on how enjoyable the whole experience is. There's definitely enough space in Xbox's sparse assortment of child-friendly games for a simple competent platformer and Super Lucky's Tale
mostly succeeds in this regard. Older gamers will have no trouble getting to grips with the tropes: the double-jump, the coin collection, the progression through several small worlds to reach a boss. This creates a perfect opportunity for parents eager to teach kids the basics. When the game gets into a good flow, reasonably frequently it nails the feel of the classics and will surely tug on the nostalgic heart-strings of many adult gamers.
Unfortunately, once again Lucky lacks a certain something: this time in his move-set. His double jump is curiously small, to the point where even basic flying enemies can be quite hard to stomp. The only unique move that Lucky brings to the table is his ability to burrow under the ground. Strangely this ability is under-utilised throughout the entire adventure. The times when it does crop up tend to be some of the optional and more irritatingly tricky bits of timed gameplay. The controls underground are a little sticky, too; it can be fairly difficult to navigate. If the player can manage to wrangle with it, they'll be rewarded with a little extra speed and height whenever they break the surface. It's just not very exciting.
The decision to favour a relatively fixed camera view over free-form rotation might be irritating to some, but happily it negates some of the traditional annoyances of free-form camera manipulation in 3D platformers. The levels are cleverly designed to make the most of the fixed perspective. Some players may never use the tilt function that allows you to rotate the view about 45 degrees to either side because they simply don't need to do so. A significant number of levels are entirely two-dimensional in terms of traversal anyway, and this is where the game tends to get a little trickier — it's never enough to put off the player, but perhaps enough to keep more experienced fans of the genre invested in the challenge.
The larger tests of skill across both level types tend to be wrapped up in bonus sequences, a welcome staple of the genre that allows the more experienced players to seek them out without alienating the casual gamer. Sadly, if you fail a challenge, in most cases you will have to quit the level entirely to reset the sequence. It's an infuriating design oversight when you are trying to hoover up additional clovers in the late game.
There are a couple of particularly frequent and irritating design problems as well. On 3D levels it can often be quite difficult to gauge distance behind and in front of the player, especially when dealing with flying enemies or fire traps. On the 2D levels, there are sometimes challenge areas on a second plane behind the main track. The view doesn't zoom at all when you reach these sections, reducing the navigation space to a tiny area in the centre of the screen. Even worse, the foreground track often gets in the way of your view of Lucky. This seems to be a design oversight rather than a feature as the blockage is often a random-seeming chunk of screen real estate, rather than a logical blind spot around which you need to navigate. The fact that timed, one-chance-only bonus sequences often crop up in these sections only adds to the frustration.
One area in which Super Lucky's Tale
definitely succeeds is in the sound design. The music is a lovely mix of airy atmosphere and classic calls to adventure reminiscent of the best Rare and Nintendo scores of the golden era of platformers. Lucky aside, the characters' voices are mostly gibberish but have distinctive personalities, while the environmental sound is subtly informative in a genre that often favours ear-splitting jingles.
Visually the game is quite gorgeous with some memorable environments, especially in the chicken coops of Veggie Village and the cute carnivals of Spookington. Again it's all a little sanitised in presentation, but the clean look suits the tone for which Playful is aiming and what the visuals lack in texture, they certainly make up for in colour. It's just a shame there's not a lot to do in this pretty world; Playful describe the game as a "playground", but the world lacks much in the way of emergent interactivity. There are very few hidden paths to find or secrets to uncover besides some heavily sign-posted brainteaser bonus levels, and there's not even many interactive objects with which to mess around on the path.
The achievement list is short and straightforward, if a little uninspired. If you want to complete the list you'll need to grab all 99 of the game's clovers, which act very much like Mario's stars or Banjo's puzzle pieces. All but four of the achievements are tied to clover collection in some way, and most of those will still crop up during natural progression. While some clovers are reasonably well hidden, there are very few deviations from the central path in any level, so the majority will come along naturally. Some may find individual clovers more taxing than others, such as getting 300 coins in levels where the collectibles are scarce. However, anyone with a reasonable level of platforming competence should be able to mop these up with a little practice.
SummarySuper Lucky's Tale
succeeds in several ways. For anyone looking for a quick and simple platforming break, or introducing their kids to the world of gaming, this charming, beautiful and largely competently designed world will likely keep you entertained throughout. Unlike many child-friendly properties in the media, the characters, music and voice-work will likely keep the young ones entertained without irritating the parent. It's a shame Lucky himself is such a bland character in terms of personality and move set; what little interaction Lucky has with the world is hampered by fairly frequent and irritating design decisions. Little Lucky really could have given us a bit more to keep players of all ages entertained, and he will need to find a few more tricks up his sleeve in any future adventures if he wants to compete with the veteran mascots of the genre. Here's hoping that he gets the chance.
- Unashamedly family-friendly without irritating the adults
- Bright environments peopled with cute characters
- Simple classic platforming delivered with competence (mostly)
- Lovely soundtrack
- Pockets of poor design impede the player in frustrating ways
- A little too bland and sanitised to be memorable
- Lucky desperately needs more personality and abilities
The reviewer spent 8 hours burrowing in the dirt and face-planting into bees, earning 81 of 99 clovers as well as 19 of the game's 23 achievements. An Xbox One digital code was provided by Microsoft for the purposes of this review.